EDITORIAL - ARNOLD "SWEENEY TODD" Schwarzenegger:

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Governor Vetoes Health Reforms, Terminates Consumer Protection Bills

By Senator Sheila Kuehl

On
September 30, the Governor finished wielding his veto pen and, in one sweeping
move, eliminated virtually every health reform measure that would have regulated
the health insurance company monopoly.

Health reform was not alone,
bill after bill that would have benefited consumers, drivers, people
who breathe, people who drink water, and just people who rely on their state
government to protect them, had its throat cut.

Like
the crazed and vengeful barber in Sweeney Todd, Arnold slashed away at bills
in a frenzy that he said over and over reflected his anger at getting a late
budget. Is this any way to run a state? The obvious answer is no.

To
add insult to injury, he put out a press release-- breathtaking in its hyperbole
and misdirection-- titled ( try not to laugh) "Gov. Schwarzenegger
Signs Urgently Needed Legislation to Protect Consumers from Unfair Health Care
Practices."

This title takes even his chutzpah to a higher level. He protected
no one, except the insurance industry. As indicated below, he chose a
few bills that didn't really bother the industry and pretended that he
had protected consumers. Nothing could be further from the truth. This
essay reviews the vetoes of health reform legislation and the few bills signed
that he is wearing as a fig leaf.

Visit my website at www.sen.ca.gov/kuehl to
read my previous essays. For
those of you who received this essay by forwarding, it is written by California
State Senator Sheila Kuehl. If you wish to subscribe to receive these
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Health Reform Vetoes

It's important to understand that
vetoes of health reform legislation have very serious consequences.....because
of these vetoes, there will continue to be very little regulation of the runaway
health insurance market and no protections for consumers.

Universal Health Care

Of course, everyone expected Arnold
to veto SB 840, the Universal Health Care Act. His own plan, which failed
to make it through the State Senate Health Committee, which I chair, would
have provided a major give-away to the health insurance companies by "requiring
every Californian to buy health insurance or face a penalty, with no caps on
premiums, except for those who make less than $25,000 a year." He has
been consistently hostile to the Medicare-like plan in SB 840 and vetoed it
(for the second time) on September 30, citing a study that did not even relate
to the bill.

Vetoes of bills his staff worked on with members

In
addition, however, the Governor stunned most of the reform advocates by also
vetoing bills his staff had been working on with authors, and which reflected
portions of his own bill. There are several examples. Let
me begin with one of my own bills, SB 1440. In 2006, I brought a bill
requiring health insurers to spend at least 85% of their premiums on care
for their enrollees, which garnered a firestorm of opposition from the insurance
industry, and failed in the Assembly.

Late in 2007, the Governor included
this provision in his own bill, and, when that failed, his staff and mine
worked together on a stand-alone bill. We
took several amendments at his behest, all favorable to the industry, but he
vetoed it anyway, as a part of his bloodbath of health reform bills. Then
he had the audacity to write a nasty veto message saying the bill was a "one-sided,
piecemeal approach to healthcare reform" and add that "His bill would
have been a total solution." Well, it would have been a total disaster,
but he's still smarting from not getting it.

Veto of Rescission Bill

In another stunning defeat for consumers,
Arnold vetoed an important bill by Assemblymember Hector de la Torre, AB 1945,
that would have banned rescissions by insurance companies of policies when
misrepresentations by applicants were not intentional and the companies had
completed their (very thorough) investigations of the application. Instead
of signing a bill that would have actually done something, Arnold had the temerity
to tout his administration's "agreements" in
which companies promised that they wouldn't do that any more.....but
his standards are much weaker.

As a result of this veto, insurance companies
can continue to rescind your policies whenever they take a backward look and "discover" a
misstatement on your application. Poof....you never had a policy and
must pay for all services rendered, yourself.

Veto of Balance Billing bill

He vetoed a bill by Senate President
pro Tempore Don Perata that would have actually affected the practice of "balance
billing" under which
health care providers now routinely bill patients when they do not receive
full amounts from insurance companies with whom they have not contracted. The
bill would have required a partial payment to the provider while working it
out between the doctor and the insurance company. The patient would not have
been billed. As a consequence of the veto, balance billing is allowed
to continue. See below for what Arnold claims he did about balance billing,
a complete sham.

Other Vetoes

He vetoed an important bill by Assembly Health
Chair Mervyn Dymally that would have improved access to the Major Risk Medical
Insurance Program, the last chance option for those unable to get insurance
because of serious medical disorders.

He vetoed a bill that would have required healthcare providers to
tell patients how long they would retain their records before destroying
them, which, we were surprised to discover, they do routinely.

He vetoed
every bill that would have added mandated coverage in California policies
(and which the insurance companies said were Just Too Expensive).....maternity
services, mental health services, hearing aids, inborn errors of metabolism,
HPV vaccinations, you know, the sort of things you generally assume you might
be covered for. He vetoed a bill that would have required parity in deductibles
for durable medical equipment. Currently, if you need a wheelchair or
crutches, you have to pay much more than for other services by your insurance
company.

Few Bills Signed but no Reform

The Governor did sign
a few incremental bills, ones that would not shake up the industry too much,
and then, of course, ballyhooed them as if he had signed real health reform
legislation.

He signed a bill, which, most amazingly, he claims ends the practice
of "balance
billing" under which healthcare providers, receiving only a pittance
from an insurance company for their services when they don't even have
a contract with such a company, sends a bill to the patient for the "balance" of
the cost. Although there were several stronger bills before him, all
of which he vetoed, he signed one that disallows such a practice only for the
Healthy Families and Access for Infants and Mothers programs, both of which
are paid by the state! So you can be "balance billed" -
he doesn't care about that - so long as the state can't be.

Oh,
but trust him, his Administration just issued new regulations about balance
billing; he just doesn't want them in statute.

He also signed bills requiring
a hospital giving you treatment to tell your insurance company, prohibiting
an insurance company from revoking your coverage just because someone else
in your family lied on their application (duh!), and had already signed a bill
in July saying that insurance companies may not reward their employees based
on how many policies they rescind. How brave
of him!

Don't Be Fooled

This guy is not on your side. Next
essay: vetoes of environmental
legislation by the Jolly not-so-Green Giant.

Senator Sheila Kuehl is the author
of SB 840, the Healthcare for All bill vetoed by Governor Scharzenegger.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are the views of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine or its publisher.