Congress voted Tuesday to override President Bush’s veto of HR 6331, making pulmonary rehabilitation an undeniable benefit for Medicare beneficiaries and ending the state-by-state inconsistent or nonexistent coverage. The final vote in the House was 383-41 while in the Senate the override passed 70-26.

"It has been a long and winding road, but today we celebrate that Congress heard the voices of millions of patients and physicians and voted to override President Bush’s veto and protect the health of America. We thank the bipartisan majority in Congress who voted to put patients first,” says Nancy H. Nielsen MD, President of the American Medical Association.

Just a week prior to the veto, HR 6331 passed with 69 votes in the Senate. Industry watchers hoped the veto-proof margin would hold, and ultimately, it did. “We’ve achieved a miracle,” said Georgie Blackburn, vice president government relations and legislative affairs for Blackurn’s, Tarentum, Pa, after the Senate vote last week. “In 30 years, I don’t recall our stopping any CMS initiative.”

President Bush made good on his threat to veto the legislation due to his opposition to Medicare Advantage cuts. However, with such solid support in both houses of Congress, the veto could not stand.

In addition to the pulmonary rehabilitation benefit, the Medicare package contains language that would repeal the rent-to-own provision that would require patients to take ownership of their home oxygen equipment after 36 months of continuous use and delay competitive bidding for 18 months..

A proposed 10.6% pay cut to physicians, a major concern for many in the medical world, has also been stopped. "The 10.6 percent cut in payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients would have been devastating to seniors and the disabled who rely on Medicare for the health care they need, as well as to military families who rely on TRICARE for their health care,” says Nielsen.

The full text of the bill can be viewed here.