Sen. Edward Kennedy returned to the floor of the Senate today for the first time since he learned that he has brain cancer and helped propel a Medicare Advantage bill, H.R. 6331, through the chamber on a voice vote.
Kennedy, D-Mass., also was one of 69 senators who voted to limit debate on the bill, the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, and clear the way for the bill to come up for a vote.
Kennedy entered the Senate along with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., and drew a long, bipartisan round of applause.
“I return to the Senate today to keep a promise to our senior citizens – and that’s to protect Medicare,” Kennedy says in a statement. “Win, lose or draw, I wanted to be here.”
No Democrats voted to block consideration of H.R. 6331, and 18 Republicans voted to allow consideration of the bill.
The House voted 355-59 to approve the bill June 24.
Senate approval of H.R. 6331 clears the way for the bill to go to President Bush, who has threatened to veto the bill over concerns about the effect the bill might have on the Medicare Advantage program.
The bill goes to the White House with more than enough votes for Congress to overturn a veto. In the past, however, many Republicans have refused to participate in efforts to overturn vetoes, even when they have supported the underlying bills.
If implemented as written, H.R. 6331 would:
- Phase out payments to Medicare Advantage organizations for the costs of indirect medical expenses that are currently paid both to hospitals and plans.
- Require private fee-for-service Medicare Advantage plans to establish provider networks for both individual and employer-group products in areas with at least 2 network plans.
- Extend and modify the authority for Medicare Advantage organizations to offer plans for special needs individuals.
- Rescind all but $1 of the stabilization fund for regional Medicare Advantage plans.