Update: House votes overwhelmingly in favor of Medicare bill

WASHINGTON The House of Representatives voted early Tuesday afternoon in favor of H.R. 6331, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008.

Although the vote was not expected to take place until later in the day, House Democratic Leadership called for a recorded vote on the bill soon after 12:00 p.m., and it passed by an overwhelming vote of 355-59 (with 129 Republicans voting for final passage and only 59 voting against). 

Pharmacy advocacy groups have lobbied tirelessly for the passage of the bill, which would, among other provisions, speed up the reimbursements for Medicare Part D claims, delay cuts to Medicaid generic prescription drug reimbursement and delay institution of the Medicare durable medical equipment, prosthetics and supplies competitive bidding program, which the groups claim is flawed.

“The bill strengthens patient access to the valuable services the nation’s 23,000 independent community pharmacies provide patients by addressing three fundamental problems,” stated Bruce Roberts, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Community Pharmacists Association.

In a letter sent to House leaders earlier in the day, Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores stated: “By delaying billions in Medicaid payment cuts to retail pharmacies—the so-called AMP cuts—your bill will prevent pharmacies from facing the untenable situation of having to accept below cost payments when serving low income patients.”

The NACDS also praised the provision in the bill instituting a program of electronic prescribing in Medicare. “The bill will greatly improve efficiencies and reduce medical errors in our nation’s health care system. NACDS has been a strong advocate of e-prescribing for years, having fought for the eprescribing provisions in the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA). Medicare beneficiaries deserve the most up-to-date health care practices and technologies available, and e-prescribing is one clear way to vastly improve and modernize the Medicare program.” 

H.R. 6331 closely resembles S. 3101, which failed to receive enough votes last week to achieve cloture, prompting a call from pharmacy groups for increased bipartisan cooperation.

Following the House vote, Anderson commented, "We are delighted by the size of the vote, which demonstrates tremendous bipartisan support.  It reflects the realization that this bill is important to healthcare and the nation's economy."  

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