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Indiana State Medical Association and AARP Urge Reconsideration of Bill to Protect Seniors' Access to Doctors and Improve Medicare

INDIANAPOLIS, July 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Gridlock has paralyzed the U.S. Senate, derailing a critical bipartisan bill that would have kept Medicare premiums fair, stopped a 10.6 percent rate cut to physicians who treat Medicare patients, and made significant improvements to a program that 44 million Americans depend on.

Last week, Sen. Richard Lugar joined a minority of senators in voting to block legislation that would have given people on Medicare continued access to their doctors and improved benefits for the most vulnerable - while boosting health care quality through national electronic prescribing.

The Senate vote on the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (H.R. 6331) was purposely scheduled for June 26 so it would become law before the cuts to doctor reimbursement took effect July 1.

Sixty votes were needed to pass the bill. In a procedural move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed his vote to "no" so that he could call the bill up at a future date. Therefore, the measure fell just one vote short of being adopted. "Sen. Lugar could have made a big difference," said Jon Marhenke, M.D., president of the Indiana State Medical Association.

Earlier in the week, the House of Representatives voted to preserve access to care for Medicare patients in a bipartisan landslide vote, passing H.R. 6331 by an overwhelming margin of 355-59. The House made seniors, the disabled and military families a top priority.

"We are deeply troubled that Sen. Lugar voted to block a bill with bipartisan support that would have preserved patients' access to their doctors and improved Medicare for the 44 million Americans who depend on it," said June Lyle, AARP Indiana state director. "We urge Sen. Lugar to listen to his constituents and reconsider his vote when the bill comes up again after the congressional recess."

"Because of Sen. Lugar's vote, the Senate went home for the July 4th recess leaving care for our nation's seniors, disabled individuals and military families hanging in the balance," Dr. Marhenke said. "We call on the senator to reconsider his vote and return to Washington to do what's right - vote to ensure patient access to care and give health care security to America's elderly."

In addition to preventing a 10.6 percent cut in payments to doctors, the Medicare bill would have:

-- Helped keep premiums fair

-- Strengthened protections for lower income beneficiaries

-- Improved Medicare's coverage of preventive services

-- Made Medicare more efficient through electronic prescribing.

The Senate is currently scheduled to reconsider H.R. 6331 immediately following the July 4th recess. "We're urging seniors and their physicians to contact Sen. Lugar on this important issue that will have a huge impact on Medicare patients' access to doctors in the future," said Dr. Marhenke.

Throughout the debate on this Medicare legislation, AARP, the American Medical Association and the ISMA have engaged their members in a fight to keep Medicare fair and protect access to doctors. Hundreds of thousands of AARP supporters, including 19,000 Hoosiers, called and e-mailed Congress, signed petitions, wrote letters to their local papers and participated in "Keep Medicare Fair" events around the country in the last several weeks.

More than 41,000 patients and physicians called Congress in June, using a hotline provide by the AMA. During the July 4th recess, the AMA is airing new radio and television ads that urge opponents of H.R. 6331 to put patients' access to care before insurance profits by voting for the bill as soon as they return to Washington next week.

Representing approximately 8,400 of the state's physicians, the ISMA has worked for 158 years to promote sound health care policy in the public, private and governmental sectors and to support continuing medical education for the state's doctors.

AARP Indiana represents 895,000 Hoosiers age 50 and older.

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