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McConnell’s threat to Medicare system




Last week Sen. Mitch McConnell recklessly threatened the Medicare system, but was stopped cold by a coalition of Senate Democrats, the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Medical Association and service groups including the Military Officers Association.

AMA president Nancy Nielson warned that the country was on “the brink of a Medicare meltdown,” given a 10.6 percent cut in physician fees that was about to take effect.

But even with the AMA warning that many doctors would have to cease taking Medicare patients, Mr. McConnell tried to muster enough votes to block a bill that would stop those fee cuts from taking place.

This is the same tactic Kentucky’s senior senator has used, repeatedly, since Democrats took control, to frustrate the progressive agenda on Capitol Hill. But this time he didn’t anticipate the surprise appearance of an ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, who left brain cancer treatment in Boston long enough to make a dramatic return to Washington and provide the 60th vote needed to defeat Mr. McConnell and his cohort.

GOP leaders pushed a 31-day extension of current Medicare physicians’ fees, arguing that a presidential veto of the pending bill was likely. But the House certainly will override any such veto, since it already has passed the measure 355-59, with 129 Republicans bucking the President. The final Senate vote was 69-30, with nine Republicans switching after Mr. Kennedy’s dramatic appearance made defeat of the GOP cloture effort certain.

In this test, Mr. McConnell stood not with the friends of Medicare but with those trying to protect private insurers like Humana that offer Medicare Advantage plans. He attacked Democrats for rejecting an extension during which some compromise could be worked out. But the Democrats didn’t need to compromise. They had the Medicare community, military folks and seniors’ advocates on their side. And this time they had the votes.

– The Courier-Journal, Louisville


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