After fiery debate that lasted well into the night, the House and Senate early today each passed the most sweeping Medicare reform legislation since the program's enactment. The House voted 216-215 for a 10-year, $400 billion prescription drug and Medicare modernization bill. The margin in the Senate was wider, with 76 senators voting in favor of and 21 against the chamber's proposal. The bills now head to a House-Senate conference committee for differences to be resolved. Both bills would provide billions of dollars in payment assistance to rural providers but differ in their treatment of hospitals and physicians. Under the House bill, hospitals would receive a payment update below inflation through 2006; physicians would be spared a rate cut scheduled for next year and see rates rise 1.5% in 2004 and 2005. Neither provision is in the Senate bill, but lobbyists expect the conference committee to retain them in some form. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the House bill would reduce seniors' average individual drug costs by 37%. -- by Jeff Tieman
House, Senate pass Medicare reform bill
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