Surprise Appearance By Senator Kennedy Pushes Senate to Pass Medicare Bill

Colorful Pet Scan of Brain

In a welcome and surprising turn of events this week, the Senate voted by a veto-proof margin of 69-30 to pass a key Medicare bill (H.R. 6311), after a unexpected, dramatic appearance and "aye" vote by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) on Wednesday. Sen. Kennedy had not been in the Capitol for six weeks, as he is recovering from surgery in early June to remove a malignant brain tumor. The House and Senate had previously been unable to agree on a Medicare package before the July Fourth congressional recess. The final Medicare bill, which would prevent deep cuts in Medicare payment rates for physicians which had been scheduled to begin on July 1, was overwhelmingly passed by the House on June 24, but before Senator Kennedy's appearance had been unable to gain Senate passage.

In addition to replacing a 10.6 percent cut to Medicare's physician payment rates with 18 months of stable payments, the Medicare bill also contains an 18-month delay in implementation of Medicare's competitive bidding program for Durable Medical Equipment (DME), as well as an 18-month extension of the Medicare outpatient therapy cap exceptions process.

It is anticipated that President Bush will veto the bill, however, and although the Senate passed the bill with a veto-proof margin earlier this week, the White House needs only three Senators to switch their votes in order for a veto override to fail. If the President delays acting on the bill, or Congress is unable to override an expected veto, the physician payment cuts and DME competitive bidding program will go into effect, and the outpatient therapy caps exceptions process will continue to be expired (as of June 30, 2008). Thus, it is extremely important that advocates visit BIAA's Legislative Action Center to take action TODAY to urge their Senator to vote to override the President's expected veto. To do so, please visit