Governor’s Vetoes: Medi-Cal Message?

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed 37 bills in one day — including about a dozen health-related ones. He also vetoed 36 bills the next day.  

Those Sept. 29-30 vetoes came during the final two days Brown could take action on last session’s bills. The string of vetoes left many people in the health care community wondering about Brown’s attitude toward funding elements of the Medi-Cal program — in part because of a pointed message in one of those rejected bills.

One of the vetoed bills, AB 2325 by Assembly member John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), had a veto message from Brown that seemed to extend beyond the bill itself.

“I’m weary at this time of adding significant new costs to the Medi-Cal program,” Brown wrote, “when already in the last two years Medi-Cal general fund spending has grown almost $2.5 billion.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office explained the comment by pointing out that although the federal government will pay the costs for the optional expansion for the next few years, approximately 800,000 Californians will receive Medi-Cal benefits under the mandatory expansion in which the costs are shared on a 50/50 basis with the federal government. As a result, the budget assumes that general fund Medi-Cal costs will rise by $2.4 billion from 2012-13 to 2014-15

A number of stakeholders and consumer health advocates expressed deep concern over the rejections and the tone of the veto messages, but did not want to speak on the record about it.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, did discuss it, with his particular brand of optimism. He said that particular veto message did stir a lot of talk, but that you have to also look at the long list of health-related bills the governor has signed.

“I guess my characterization on it is, it wasn’t all vetoes and it wasn’t all signings,” Wright said.

“The ‘weary’ comment did suggest an overall tone,” Wright said. “But on specific issues, we see a path he has followed for making needed improvements to Medi-Cal. I think [the veto message] is indicative, but it doesn’t mean we’re not moving forward.” Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program.

Wright pointed out the signing message for AB 1341 by Assembly member Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) was also indicative — in the opposite way.

“Much [computer system] functionality is still in development, and the timeframe of January 1, 2016, for executing more system changes may be overly ambitious,” Brown wrote. “I am signing this bill, however, because it codifies an aspirational target that we should all strive to meet, understanding that our best efforts to meet these challenges may need more time.”

“He said that bill was ‘aspirational’ and we should strive to set targets in Medi-Cal like that,” Wright said.

Wright added that limited spending, including health care funding, has been a signature of Brown’s administration, so he expects a similar future if Brown wins a second term in the November election.

“It was the governor continuing to indicate his austerity-minded view,” Wright said, “and that’s something we knew already. And we continue to work with him and continue to engage him.”

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