White House continues to threaten veto of Medicare payments bill.

The AP (7/11) reports, "President Bush intends to block a bill protecting doctors from a cut in their Medicare pay, even though Congress has enough votes to override his veto, a White House spokesman indicated on Thursday." The President opposes "reduce[d] spending on private health insurers serving about nine million elderly and disabled patients through Medicare Advantage," which the bill calls for in order to "pay for rescinding [a] 10.6 rate cut" in Medicare payments to doctors. According to White House spokesman Tony Fratto, "Taking choices away from seniors in order to pay for the reimbursements for physicians is the wrong way to pass this bill and to extend the reimbursements that we want to see physicians get." The White House predicts that reduced Medicare Advantage spending — about $13.5 billion over five years — would slow enrollment growth," estimating "that about two million fewer people would take part in the program."

        But, "Senate Democrats say they have enough support to override [the] potential presidential veto," according to the Boston Globe (7/10, Milligan). Minutes before the vote, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), "under treatment for brain cancer, made a brief, triumphant return to the Senate" to vote on the measure, giving "Democrats the vote they needed to stop a Republican filibuster and pass the bill."

        In addition to concern over the pending veto, Jacob Goldstein added in the Wall Street Journal‘s (7/10) Health Blog that, even if the measure is instated, "the issue will return next year, just as it returned last year and the year before that." He explained that Congress passed a budget bill in 1997 "called the sustainable growth rate (SGR) for Medicare. The SGR says essentially that the amount Medicare pays doctors for an average Medicare patient can’t grow faster than the economy as a whole." Meaning that "if growth in payments per beneficiary grows more than the economy as a whole, the SGR says you have to lower payments to doctors across the board to keep costs under control." Which is "fine," he stated, until "the economy slowed and healthcare spending skyrocketed early in this decade." Now, "we’re stuck with continued short-term interventions until, some day, Congress come[s] up with a whole new system to start the clock running again." Modern Healthcare (7/10, Lubell) also covered the Senate’s passage of the bill.