Sen. Edward Kennedy’s appearance in the Senate recently, in the midst of his personal battle against brain cancer, to break a Republican filibuster against a bill to save Medicare will go down in history. Days later, on July 15, as the result of a 383-41 congressional vote to override a Bush veto the progressive measure became law.
The margin for passage of the override was even bigger than the original vote for passage of the bill itself because even more Republicans joined all the Democrats who backed it the first time around. Fear of election day retribution and the moving appearance of Kennedy at the earlier Senate session sealed the fate of the Bush administration’s attempt to kill Medicare by drastically cutting back on payments to doctors.
HR 6331, the bill that was passed, improves beneficiary access to preventive and mental health services, enhances low-income benefit programs, and maintains access to care in rural areas, including access to pharmacies. Rather than drastically cutting doctors’ payments, it reduces reimbursements to private insurance companies that complete with Medicare.
It is estimated that had the cuts in doctors’ fees gone forward, as many as 60 percent of physicians would have stopped treating new Medicare patients and would have dropped others from their rolls, according to the American Medical Association.
President Bush vetoed the legislation, making it clear once again that he is on the side of the insurance companies and giant corporations.
George Kourpias, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, blasted those who had lined up with the Bush administration in this latest attack on Medicare.
“This egregious example of corporate welfare siphons valuable money from the Medicare Trust Fund, taking from those with the least and giving to those with the most,” Kourpias said, adding, “President Bush’s veto continues his legacy of sacrificing older Americans’ health care needs for the profits of large corporations.”
The bill had first passed the House June 24, 355-59. Republican Senate leaders — with White House support — roadblocked it. A vote to end a filibuster against the Medicare bill fell one vote short June 26.”
It was Kennedy’s appearance that broke the filibuster and caused even some House Republicans who voted against the measure the first time to switch their votes in favor the second time around.
An article in the Houston Chronicle notes that the bill also affects the 9.2 million active and retired military personnel and their family members. They use the Tricare system which bases its reimbursement rates on those set by Medicare. Sgt. Mark Seavey of the National Guard stated that military families already face a tremendous obstacle in finding providers within their network and rate cuts to doctors would have compounded their problems.
The AFL-CIO’s McCain Revealed web-site indicates John McCain has worked relentlessly to gut both Social Security and Medicare. The web-site notes that McCain has voted to cut $6.4 billion from Medicare. He also missed critical votes to bargain for lower prescription drug prices for seniors. He voted to increase seniors’ Medicare premiums and raise the Medicare eligibility age.
Patients, providers and others are pleased that even with tremendous pressure from the Bush administration, Congress was able to push back and assert itself.
Republicans who opposed the Bush Medicare cuts include even his longtime Texas allies —Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Reps. John Culberson and Michael McCaul. Cornyn was one of those who reversed his vote when the Texas Medical Association retracted their endorsement of him. Cornyn, McCaul and Culberson face stiff opposition in their re-election bids.