The House and the Senate voted Tuesday to override a veto of a bill that calls for using cuts in Medicare Advantage funding to help avert reductions in the rates Medicare pays doctors.

President Bush vetoed the bill, H.R. 6331, earlier today.

Bush, who opposes Medicare Advantage funding cuts, said in his veto message that the bill is “fiscally irresponsible” and relies on “short-term budget gimmicks” that do not address the long-term fiscal soundness of the Medicare program.

The House quickly voted 383-41 to override the veto.

Within hours, the Senate voted 70-26 to pass its own override resolution.

Congress now has voted to override a total of 4 presidential vetoes.

If implemented as written, H.R. 6331 will start by holding Medicare payments to doctors at the current rates, increasing Medicare doctor reimbursement rates over the 18 months, and paying for some of the increase in compensation by cutting payments to private insurers that participate in the Medicare Advantage program by $12.5 billion over 5 years.

Congress originally scheduled a cut in the Medicare physician reimbursement rate in legislation developed in an effort to control Medicare program costs.

Under H.R. 6331, unless Congress intervenes a second time, the Medicare physician reimbursement rate will fall 20% in about 18 months.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 20% of Medicare’s 44 million enrollees are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.

The Medicare Advantage program will pay a total of about $86 billion to private insurers this year.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, has been active in efforts to oppose H.R. 6331.

“It is unfortunate that Congress chose to cut the Medicare Advantage program that seniors rely on,” AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says in a statement about the veto override votes.

Seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans could face reduced benefits, higher out-of-pocket costs and fewer health care choices as a result of the cuts, Zirkelbach warns.

But H.R. 6331 will last “only for 18 months,” Zirkelbach says. “We think that Congress needs to have a larger debate as to how to fix the physician payment formula rather than going through the back door every couple of years to fix the cut.”