Governor vetoes health care reform bills

Governor Schwarzenegger signed several health care bills on Tuesday, but he vetoed many more. Some of the measures he tossed out had been components of his own failed plan to provide coverage to 6 million uninsured Californians. Others would have banned practices the governor says he's against. So why the vetoes? KPCC's Julie Small explains why.

Julie Small: The governor signed a bill to protect patients' privacy. It would fine hospitals up to $250,000 for security breaches, like the high profile leaks of patient records at UCLA this year. The governor also signed a measure that requires HMO's and insurance companies to provide routine HIV testing. Both bills take effect next year. But that's where the love ends.

Daniel Zingali: This was not a banner year for health care reform.

Small: Daniel Zingali advises the governor on health care. He says many of the bills the legislature passed were stand-alone measures that are easy to pass, but do little to solve California's health care crisis.

Zingali: If we did try to fix the health care delivery system in a piecemeal fashion where we just, frankly, do some of the things that the special interests are most comfortable with, but we avoid the hard stuff – the cost containment, the shift to preventative – then we could get ourselves into deeper trouble.

Small: Zingali says that's why the governor vetoed a plan to require insurance companies to spend 85 percent of each health care dollar on direct medical costs. State Senator Sheila Keuhl lifted that proposal right out of the governor's own health care reform bill, a bill she voted against.

When the governor was pushing health care reform earlier this year, he'd been able to convince most of the state's health insurers to go along with the 85 percent requirement. But health advisor Daniel Zingali says he won't back it now.

Zingali: The reason we came up with 85 percent is because we think that's a reasonable standard, but we think it should be done in the context of comprehensive reform.

Small: That way, it's coupled with other provisions that would require all Californians to get coverage, and that would invest more in preventative care to drive down costs. It all works together, says Zingali.

The governor also vetoed bills that seemed to line up with his own views. He gave the "thumbs down" to a measure to stop emergency rooms from billing patients for expenses insurers refuse to pay. And he vetoed a bill to make it harder for insurance companies to cancel coverage after a policyholder gets sick.

The governor instead worked through state agencies to address the same issues. Direct billing is illegal as of October. But efforts to clarify laws against canceling coverage have stalled, which makes that veto more of a mystery.