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Bush Vetoes Medicare Bill

Well, we knew that was coming. President George W. Bush today vetoed Democratic legislation to prevent Medicare doctors from being hit with a 10.6 percent cut this year. Chief among his objections: Bush says the bill will undermine the GOP program under which private insurance companies deliver Medicare services. From today’s veto message to the House:

It would harm beneficiaries by taking private health plan options away from them; already more than 9.6 million beneficiaries, many of whom are considered lower-income, have chosen to join a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, and it is estimated that this bill would decrease MA enrollment by about 2.3 million individuals in 2013 relative to the program’s current baseline.

Unmentioned is the fact that those MA plans also cost roughly 12 percent more per patient than traditional Medicare. For the fastest growing type of MA plan, the cost discrepancy is closer to 18 percent. Democrats and patient advocates say the subsidies to insurance companies would be better spent elsewhere — like on treating patients through the regular program.

The House, which passed the bill last month by a whopping 355 to 59, is expected to override the veto this afternoon. But an override is less certain in the Senate, where Republican opposition is stronger. Indeed, it was only with last week’s surprise arrival of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who’s suffering from a cancerous brain tumor, that the bill gathered the 60 votes needed to avoid a Republican filibuster. (The final tally was 69 to 30, after nine Republicans abandoned their earlier opposition to join the majority once it was clear the bill would pass.) The question now is whether those nine will stick with their last vote, or flip-flop again to support the White House and Republican leaders. Stay tuned…

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