Congress overrides Bush veto of Medicare bill, repealing physician cuts

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Congress worked quickly to quash presidential veto. Source: Doctor Anonymous  

Both houses of Congress Tuesday garnered the two-thirds majorities needed to override the presidential veto of H.R. 6331, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008. The House overrode the veto by a margin of 383-41 and the Senate by a margin of 70-26, just hours after the president issued the veto.

The bill repeals the 10.6 percent physician payment cut called for by Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula that went into effect July 1. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had delayed processing any payments until Tuesday, allowing time for Congress to find a solution.

The new measure replaces the 10.6 percent cut as well as a 5 percent cut set for Jan. 1, 2009, with a continuation of current rates for the rest of 2008 and a 1.1 percent update through 2009.

After Bush issued the veto, the White House said it did not oppose the pay for doctors, but does object to the way the legislation would finance the plan.

While the American College of Cardiology (ACC) praised the bill’s passage, it expressed caution for the nature of the “quick fix.”

“We must fix the real problem – the flawed payment formula fails to keep pace with doctors’ cost of delivering care, while at the same time, physician practice expenses continue to escalate. This is frankly a house of cards. Medicare patients deserve access to the highest quality care – we need to get beyond putting Band-Aids on a broken payment formula year after year to focus on improving quality and effectiveness of care,” said Jack Lewin, MD, CEO of the ACC.

The legislation also calls for providers of advanced diagnostic imaging services (MR, CT, PET and nuclear medicine) to be accredited in order to receive payment for the technical component of those services, according to the American College of Radiology (ACR). The ACR said that the bill establishes a two-year voluntary demonstration program to test the use of physician developed appropriateness criteria.