The House and Senate voted to override President Bush’s veto of HR 6331, officially delaying the 10.6% scheduled physician fee cuts for 18 months. The final tally in the House was 383-41. House Democrats voted 230-0 in favor of the override, with Republicans voting 153-41 to supersede the president’s veto. In the Senate, the override passed 70-26.

Just a week prior to the veto, HR 6331 passed by unanimous vote in the Senate. Industry watchers hoped the veto-proof margin would hold, and ultimately, it did. "It has been a long and winding road, but today we celebrate that Congress heard the voices of millions of patients and physicians and voted to override President Bush’s veto and protect the health of America," said Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, president, American Medical Association. "We thank the bipartisan majority in Congress who voted to put patients first."

President Bush made good on his threat to veto the legislation due to his opposition to Medicare Advantage cuts. However, with such solid support in both houses of Congress, the veto could not stand.

"This congressional debate underscores the need for lawmakers to permanently replace the flawed Medicare physician payment formula so physicians can focus on the real work at hand: taking care of patients," said Nielsen. "We are encouraged that this bill stops Medicare cuts for the next 18 months and gives physicians a 1.1% payment update to help payments keep up with the increasing cost of providing health care to seniors. Current Medicare payments to physicians are about what they were in 2001, while the cost of running a medical practice has increased substantially."

Besides stopping physician pay cuts, the bill also delays the DME competitive bidding program for 18 months. Exact provisions of the bill can be viewed here.

"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 Nielsen. "Seniors, the disabled, and military families celebrate with us today as this bill becomes law to protect their access to needed health care."