16 July 2008

A Major Victory on Medicare!

Yesterday the congress and senate quickly overrode Bush’s veto of H.R. 6331, known as the Medicare bill. Just before the fourth of July break, Texas Republican Senators Cornyn and Hutchison voted against the bill. Facing pressure from outraged senior’s groups and grassroots activists along with doctors and their professional organizations, they reversed their votes and the bill went to Bush who vetoed it.

Bush and republicans were at odds with a provision in the bill, which would reduce spending on private health plans known as Medicare Advantage plans. The Advantage plans are a variation on HMOs providing turn-key health-care to Medicare recipients at a cost ratio of 12% to 19% greater than traditional Medicare. Critics argue that the extreme disparity in expense drive up costs for taxpayers and the 44-million Americans on Medicare.

Such plans were part of Bush’s failed domestic agenda to privatize Medicare and turn it over to HMOs and Insurance Oligarchs. As with his wretchedly lame-brained notion of turning Social Security over to Wall Street, older and wiser heads have prevailed.

The passage of the bill insures that Medicare recipients will have lower co-payments for mental health and more of them will find assistance in paying their monthly premiums.

The bill also guarantees that providers will be paid promptly and that physician’s reimbursements for treating Medicare patients will not be cut. By extension, this means that military families relying on TRICARE for their health care will have an easier time of finding physicians since TRICARE sets reimbursement levels based on Medicare.

Had the bill not passed, the 10.6% cut in physician reimbursements would have meant that many would have ceased accepting Medicare and TRICARE patients with devastating consequences for seniors and military families, particularly those in rural areas with few alternatives to local physicians.

The vote in the senate was close, underscoring the importance of the upcoming election. Texas seniors just do not need more of the same. The override was a hard fought victory involving a coalition of many divergent interests including unions, physicians, medical groups and grass-roots senior activists.

Now, we need to sustain our effort and send to the senate someone who will vote to protect our interests. The battle to save Social Security and to preserve and improve Medicare is far from over.

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