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 agency had delayed processing any payments until Tuesday. 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.

"The bill contains a number of other important provisions, including an extension of expiring provisions that boost payments in rural areas, bonuses for quality reporting, a phase-out of higher co-pays for mental health services, an expansion of the medical home demonstration project and increased payments for anesthesia teaching programs,” said Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA).

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.

“The final passage of this bill is a victory for medicine, radiology and all our patients,” stated James H. Thrall, MD, chair of the ACR board of chancellors. “Not only did today’s congressional action end the specter of a 10.6 percent cut for all physicians, it also included the provisions of mandatory accreditation for those who perform advanced imaging services, and an appropriateness criteria pilot program to help physicians prescribe the most appropriate imaging exam.”