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Congress overcomes Bush veto of Medicare bill
Huge victory for people's health care

By James Thompson

To the delight of health care providers and consumers alike, Congress overrode President Bush's veto of a progressive Medicare bill (HR 6331) and voted to enact the legislation on July 15, 2008.

The legislation will improve beneficiary access to preventive and mental health services, enhance low-income benefit programs, and will maintain access to care in rural areas, including pharmacy access. It will also halt the 10.6% Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) cut, provide a 1.1% update for 2009, and phase in Medicare coinsurance parity. Rather than cutting doctor's payments, insurance companies' reimbursement will be reduced instead.

It is estimated that had the cuts in doctors' fees gone forward, as many as 60% of physicians would have stopped treating new Medicare patients and would have dropped others from their rolls, according to the American Medical Association.

The House voted 383-41 to override Bush's veto. All Democrats voted "yea". In both the House and the Senate, Bush had fewer votes on his side after delivering the veto than he had before, which is an extremely rare event.

Both Presidential contenders did not vote, although it was clear that Sen. Obama would have been available had his vote been needed to pass the legislation. In a previous vote on cloture, Sen. Obama voted to support the legislation, but Sen. McCain did not vote.

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, said about the machinations of the right-wingers, "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…President Bush's veto continues his legacy of sacrificing older Americans' health care needs for the profits of large corporations. The bill first passed the House in June 24 by a 355-59 margin, but 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."

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) made his first appearance in the Senate last week since being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast the deciding vote to break the filibuster. After this, a number of Republicans who had previously opposed the legislation switched their vote in order to jump on the bandwagon.

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 rates on payment rates 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 would just compound their problems.

The McCain Revealed website for the AFL-CIO indicates Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has worked relentlessly to gut both Social Security and Medicare. The website 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.

It is encouraging to realize that even with tremendous pressure from the neo-cons and right-wingers of the Bush administration, the U.S. Congress was able to push back against these negative forces. Many Republicans opposed Bush in this effort including his Texas cronies, Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Reps. John Culberson and Michael McCaul. Cornyn had previously opposed the legislation, but 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.

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