Physicians are waiting with bated breath to see what the president will do with a veto-proof Medicare bill that will stave off cuts to their Medicare payments through 2009.
In a dramatic session on the Senate floor, highlighted by the arrival of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who appeared for the first time since taking a hiatus for cancer treatment, the chamber voted 69-30 to approve the majority-sponsored bill last week. Kennedys vote, along with a few switch votes from Senate Republicans, safely drove the bill into veto-proof territory, although GOP leadership claims a White House veto is still likely.
With this vote, the Senate has passed a responsible and necessary bill to prevent payment cuts for doctors and to improve care for patients, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a written statement. He and other Democrats have called upon President Bush to sign the bill.
The House had also achieved a veto-proof margin of 355-59 to approve the bill, which was spearheaded by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) but later amended by House Democrats. The legislation halts a 10.6% cut to physician payments for the next 18 months, includes a slight pay bump in 2009 and makes other adjustments. Absent was presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, who was campaigning.
If the president vetoes, you can expect a quick override in both the House and Senate, said Alex Vachon, a healthcare consultant.
Physician groups and lawmakers alike hailed the veto-proof passage of the bill. In a written statement, J. James Rohack, president-elect of the American Medical Association, applauded the GOP senators who put patients first and voted Yes even though they had concerns about the process or some of the bills provisions.
Senators had previously fallen one vote short of the 60 needed to proceed with the legislation. The tide turned in last weeks vote, when nine Republicans originally against the bill voted in favor of the measure. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Warner (R-Va.) were among those who switched their votes. Other GOP senators remained staunch in their opposition.
The bill would tie the hands of the Medicare Part D plans resulting in higher drug prices and higher premiums on seniors, and also it includes entitlement expansions that are well-intentioned but ill-timed with the pending insolvency of the program, said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the finance committee, who voted against the bill.