Health insurance for working poor under attack in Pa.
Published Jan 30, 2011 9:49 PM
Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s new governor, wasted no time in carrying out
his pro-corporate, anti-working-class campaign promises to cut state services.
On Jan. 11, a transition team official announced that adultBasic, the
state’s subsidized health insurance for low-income workers, will likely
end in February, impacting 42,000 enrollees and more than 479,000 on a waiting
David F. Simon, transition team chairperson for insurance matters, says the
team negotiated an agreement with Blue Cross companies to waive their
pre-existing condition restrictions so people can move from adultBasic to the
Blues’ Special Care plans for those with low incomes. (Philadelphia
Inquirer, Jan. 12)
The Special Care plans, however, charge premiums that are 400 percent higher
than adultBasic, or $140 per month as opposed to $36, provide far fewer
benefits and limit doctor’s office visits to four times a year.
Gene Bishop, a physician consultant to the Pennsylvania Health Law Project,
which opposes the move, said, “Special Care is horrible insurance.”
(Phila. Inquirer, Jan. 12).
Opponents of the proposal to eliminate adultBasic say that it would take less
than 3 percent of the combined surpluses of the state’s four Blue Cross
plans — which stood at $5.6 billion as of 2009 — to fully fund the
plan without any state funds. They are calling on the Blues to continue
adultBasic until 2014, when provisions of the federal health care overhaul that
would replace programs like this go into effect.
As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Corbett boosted his standing with
conservatives by joining their national campaign to repeal President Barack
Obama’s health care plan. As governor, he continues to support that
Gov. Tom Ridge established adultBasic in 2002, using funds from
Pennsylvania’s share of a national settlement with big tobacco companies.
In 2005, the state’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans, under fire for their
growing surpluses, agreed to contribute to adultBasic to satisfy the charitable
obligation required to maintain their tax-exempt status. Incorporated as
“non-profit hospital plans,” these companies are not subject to
Pennsylvania’s insurance premiums tax.
From 2002 to 2009, the four state Blues’ cumulative surpluses grew from
$3.5 billion to $5.6 billion, an increase of 61.4 percent. Their combined
contributions to support adultBasic were around $500 million a year, hardly
making a dent in their profits. Their agreement to fund adultBasic expired on
AdultBasic provides health insurance to Pennsylvanians between the ages of 19
and 64 who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. Their incomes cannot
exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $21,660 for a single
person, and $44,100 for a family of four. The plan covers hospital visits,
preventive care, physician services, and treatment of illnesses and
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s July report said that the
waiting list for adultBasic has grown by more than 300,000 people since the
recession began in December 2007. More than 85 percent of adultBasic enrollees
have incomes below $30,000. Two-thirds are women. While one-third of enrollees
are between 46 and 55 years of age, the largest buildup on the waiting list is
of people between 19 and 26 as more young people lose their jobs and go without
The PBPC study says that the number of Pennsylvanians without health insurance
had grown from 1 million in 2001 to 1.2 million by 2008, ranking second in the
nation for the number of individuals who had lost employment-based coverage.
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