The U.S. Senate today voted 69-30 to block a 10.6% cut in physician Medicare fees, while also adding a 0.5% increase for the rest of 2008 and a 1.1% increase for 2009.
In a moment of high drama, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy appeared on the floor of the Senate in the middle of the roll call vote. He was escorted by his son U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Barack Obama. The Senate chamber immediately erupted into a boisterous and prolonged round of cheers and applause.
Senators Kennedy and Kerry voted to support the bill. They have consistently supported physicians throughout the long effort to fix the Medicare payment formula.
Two weeks ago, the same bill failed by a single vote. Today when the final outcome became clear, nine Republicans who had voted against the bill two weeks ago voted yes. Most of them are up for re-election this year. Senators Gregg and Sununu of New Hampshire, who voted against the bill two weeks ago, voted no again today.
MMS President Bruce S. Auerbach, M.D. said, "Common sense prevailed, and a crisis in care has been avoided. The Senate did the right thing for our senior citizens and our physicians. A cut that large in reimbursements would have needlessly jeopardized access to health care for seniors, as well as endanger the viability of physician practices."
Dr. Auerbach added, "We are thankful to Senators Kerry and Kennedy for voting 'yes,' and we are especially grateful to Senator Kennedy who, despite facing critical personal health problems, made a dramatic appearance in the Senate to cast his vote."
President Bush has said he will veto the bill, but 69 votes would override a veto. The House approved the same bill last month by a 5 to 1 margin, easily enough for an override.
The AMA issued a statement strongly urging President Bush to sign the bill. AMA President-Elect James Rohack, MD, said,"Now we urge President Bush to hear and heed the voices of seniors, the
disabled and military families – and sign the bill into law for the
health of America."