A Medicare bill opposed by the White House won final congressional approval on Wednesday, with the help of Sen. Edward Kennedy who returned to the Senate for the first time since having brain surgery.
The Medicare bill had already been rejected June 26 in the Senate by just one vote and the House approved the bill on June 24 by a vast 355 to 59.
The bill needed 60 votes to advance the measure. The bill received 69 votes in favor, which means the bill has a veto-proof majority in both Houses.
The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act would stop a scheduled 11 percent pay cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients, as well as fees paid to doctors under Tricare, the military’s health care program, which follows the same payment schedule .
It is funded mostly by $13 billion in reimbursements to private Medicare Advantage plans offered by insurers like Humana, UnitedHealth and Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
The bill also included ways to expand preventive care coverage, to more quickly reimburse pharmacies, and to improve rural health programs.
Senator Kennedy did not vote on June 26, and his appearance Wednesday may have helped sway some Republicans to vote for the popular bill, which had wide support from both parties in the House. Of the presidential candidates, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama voted for the bill, but Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona was the only senator who did not show up to vote.
The Bush administration, and many Republicans, opposed reducing payment to private health plans, because they think that will limit plan choices for seniors. But doctors and seniors group AARP were against the doctors' pay cut.
The American Medical Association said in a statement that it was delighted that the "Senate heard the voices of patients and physicians and voted to stop Medicare physician payment cuts that would have hurt seniors' access to care."
Some Republicans complained that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, would not allow amendments made to the bill. Many Republicans said they would support the bill only if Reid allowed amendments. But some of the senators who opposed the bill last month ended up backing it this time.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for 44 million elderly and disabled. About 10 million seniors use the private plans known as Medicare Advantage.