Last week, the Commonwealth Court ruled that two statutes that stripped money from the successful adultBasic and Medical Assistance Benefits for Workers with Disabilities programs were unconstitutional because they diverted money from the federal Tobacco Settlement to finance items other than health care in the general budget.
I consider this ruling a victory in favor of hard-working Pennsylvanians who have found themselves in a position where they lack health care benefits because of Gov. Tom Corbett Administration policies of cutting programs for low-income residents.
Under the Tobacco Settlement of 1998, tobacco companies agreed to distribute $200 billion over 25 years among Pennsylvania and other states. However, two subsequent laws were enacted that diverted some of Pennsylvania's tobacco settlement funds to the state's general fund budget. The Court's decision threw out those measures and ruled that at least 30 percent of the settlement proceeds must fund the defunct adultBasic health insurance or a similar plan starting in Fiscal Year 2013-14.
AdultBasic was created in 2002 to serve lower-income working Pennsylvanians who fell through the gap. These individuals were not insured by their employers and could not afford to purchase private insurance but earned too much to qualify for Medicaid and were too young for Medicare. During the last months of the program's existence in 2011, the qualifying household income limit was $21,660 for an individual, and a subscriber paid $36 a month for full coverage that included major surgery but excluded dental costs and prescriptions. By late 2010, the program had become so popular that over 42,000 residents were subscribed, and the waiting list exceeded 400,000.
AdultBasic was not a handout and presented no direct cost to the taxpayer because the program was funded with a combination of Tobacco Settlement money and the Community Health Reinvestment program, which was supported by the four Blues insurers in Pennsylvania as part of a six-year deal that eventually expired.
In February 2011, Gov. Corbett declined to extend funding for adultBasic. Of the more than 42,000 program enrollees, only 38 percent of participants have enrolled into the more expensive, more limited-benefits "Special Care" option, according to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. The majority of individuals have remained uninsured.
Shortly after the Corbett Administration's decision to end adultBasic, a group of former recipients filed a class-action lawsuit citing that the move to end the program was a blatant violation of requirements directing a portion of the Tobacco Settlement moneys to these programs.
The Court's ruling on this suit has reaffirmed my position that these valuable programs should have never been terminated and that this administration's policies of cutting vital human service programs from those who need it the most are not only unconscionable but unconstitutional.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District (including all of Baldwin Township)
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