WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Kennedy returned to the Senate chamber on Wednesday to loud cheers, casting a crucial vote in favor of a bill that will reduce financial burden on doctors who receive Medicare payments.
The bill now goes to the White House, after passing by a veto-proof margin.
Kennedy, who is recovering from brain surgery that resulted from cancer, has been staying at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., while undergoing chemotherapy. Kennedy's wife reported earlier this week that he was feeling fatigued, but able to continue activities, including sailing.
When his name came up during the roll call Wednesday, he yelled, "Aye," made a thumbs-up gesture as he registered his vote, and was surrounded by loud cheers from his colleagues.
The bill would void a 10.6 percent pay cut for doctors treating Medicare patients.
The House already has overwhelmingly approved the Medicare measure, but a Senate vote two weeks ago fell one vote short of the 60 votes needed to limit debate. Kennedy, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for brain cancer, was not present then.
His presence Wednesday was instrumental as the vote to limit debate was approved 69-30. Under a previous agreement, once the 60-vote threshold was met, the bill was considered approved.
Lawmakers are under pressure from doctors and the elderly patients they serve to void the cut, which kicked in July 1 because of a funding formula that establishes lower reimbursement rates when Medicare spending levels exceed established targets. Some doctors say they'll quit taking new patients if the cuts stand.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.