Friday, February 25, 2011
By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With just days to go until funding for adultBasic runs outs, advocates of the low-cost state-run insurance plan and some Democratic lawmakers are making a last ditch -- but seemingly futile -- effort to save the program.
The program provides cheap health care for more than 41,000 low-income Pennsylvanians, with its $36 monthly premiums subsidized by the state and by contributions from the state's Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurers. The original 2005 deal that steered Blues money into the adultBasic program expired Dec. 31; auxiliary funding for adultBasic has likewise run out, and the state hasn't put more money toward the program.
It hasn't been for lack of trying on the part of the coalition of public health advocates known as the Pennsylvania Health Access Network. On Thursday, the network called on protesters to stage a candlelight vigil outside Gov. Tom Corbett's "mansion" along North Front Street in Harrisburg, at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, if the funding expires as expected.
Earlier in the week, House Democrats, including Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, and Rep. Tony DeLuca, D- Penn Hills, sent a petition to Mr. Corbett's office bearing 2,500 names, collected online, according to the caucus. The petition asked the governor to reconsider his stance on adultBasic.
The stance is this: AdultBasic was not meant to be a perpetual entitlement program, and then-Gov. Ed Rendell failed to deliver a new funding source for the program. Mr. Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, has called adultBasic "unsustainable" and noted that over the decade since it was created, premiums weren't increased to match increased medical costs.
Six years ago, adultBasic's premium was $32 and today it is $36, an increase of about 12 percent over six years.
Some recipients are expected to lose health coverage; others will try to apply for other government coverage or for emergency plans provided by the Blues insurers. Those plans, critics say, are more expensive and provide less coverage.
Senate Democrats gave it a go this week, floating a plan to provide emergency adultBasic funding. Similar legislative rescues were introduced last year but didn't gain any traction.
"The proposal is simple," said state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forrest Hills, in a statement. "Everyone who is impacted by the plan will give a little and those contributions will form a bridge that gets the program to the next budget year."
Mr. Costa is the Democratic leader in the Senate. He said his "bridge" plan would collect $25 million from the state, $4 million from adultBasic subscribers via premium hikes and nine state health insurers were asked to collectively contribute a total of $25 million.
Together, that $54 million would float the program though June, theoretically giving the Legislature more time to find funding. But with both legislative chambers and the governor's residence controlled by Republicans, a deal on adultBasic seems unlikely.
More likely is a legal challenge on behalf of the subscribers.
Community Legal Services, based in Philadelphia, has said it is exploring a preventative lawsuit. The organization also sent a letter to the state Insurance Department this week requesting "all terminations be stopped until the [Medicaid eligibility screening] is completed so that, for example, cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, kidney patients undergoing dialysis and pregnant women" don't suffer grievous harm.
About 4,200 Allegheny County residents are on adultBasic, with 400 in Armstrong County, 700 in Beaver, 800 in Butler, 1,000 in Fayette, 178 in Greene, 500 in Lawrence, 840 in Washington and nearly 1,800 in Westmoreland.
Bill Toland: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2625.
First published on February 25, 2011 at 12:00 am
The newly elected Corbett was one of the state attorney generals who tried to use state money to fight healthcare reform. His reasoning? A waste of taxpayers money. Hate him.
From February 10th: Gov. Tom Corbett maintains his plan to let adultBasic health insurance plan end this month.