Lawmakers, Health Advocates Call for Revival of AdultBasic
HARRISBURG, March 1, 2012 — One year after 40,000 Pennsylvanians were booted from their adultBasic health coverage, state Sen. Mike Stack, along with several Senate Democratic colleagues and health advocates, called for reviving the low-cost state-run health plan.
“This was a program that allowed working individuals an opportunity to afford health insurance. They just needed a hand up to stay healthy and go to work. Instead, they got a smack down from Governor Corbett,” said Stack (D-Phila.), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. “One year later, these folks still need assistance.”
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The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates that only 40 percent of former adultBasic recipients have found other health care coverage.
Specifically, during recent budget hearings Pennsylvania Department of Insurance Commissioner Michael F. Consedine noted that only about a third of former adultBasic recipients were enrolled in the alternative health programs Special Care, Medical Assistance, or PA Fair Care.
“That means 60 percent of former adultBasic recipients still have no health coverage, and that doesn’t even include the half-million Pennsylvanians who were on the adultBasic waiting list,” Stack said. “It is unbelievable that this administration continues to let decent, hard-working individuals fall through the cracks.”
Pennsylvania’s adultBasic program, which provided low-cost health care to working Pennsylvanians who made too much to qualify for Medical Assistance, ended on Feb. 28, 2011 due to a lack of funding.
Stack called for using tobacco settlement money to fund this program, as it was funded in previous years.
State Sen. John Blake, who was the former chairman of the Tobacco Settlement Investment Board, agreed.
“These resources could have been available,” said Blake (D-Lackawanna). “The ending of adultBasic does not improve the quality of life of Pennsylvanians and it could have been avoided.”
Stack also recommended pausing the capitol stock and franchise tax phase out for one year to generate $275 million and fund the adultBasic program until the health exchange is implemented under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in January 2014.
The Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers has reported that calls to its toll-free hotline, which helps connect individuals with health care, increased from an average of 200 calls a month to 900 calls a month since adultBasic ended.
“It’s bad enough that these folks are dealing with chronic conditions and medical issues that are beyond their control, but to add the anxiety of losing their health coverage is just cruel,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks). “The administration may have been trying to save a few dollars but ending adultBasic will be very costly for Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania ranks sixth among states with the highest impact of chronic disease, according to a study released by the Milken Institute. The cost of treating these conditions totaled $13.6 billion in 2003, and the impact of lost workdays and lower employee productivity resulted in an annual economic loss in Pennsylvania of $50.5 billion.
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Former adultBasic recipient Danielle Gatto of Philadelphia testified via a video interview at the news conference.
Gatto, a restaurant manager living with the digestive disorder Crohn’s disease, was denied private health insurance because of her preexisting condition. She relied on adultBasic from 1995 until the program ended last year. With adultBasic coverage, she was able to manage her chronic condition and stay out of the hospital.
“Adultbasic was so beneficial because it’s the only plan that would cover the treatment that I need for my Crohn’s disease,” said Gatto, 31. “There’s no other insurance that will take me with that condition. AdultBasic was the only thing that would cover the treatment for me and that treatment is the only thing that keeps me out of the hospital.”
Gatto is now enrolled in the alternative Special Care program, which has a monthly premium of $148.70, compared to the $36 adultBasic premium. Her new plan only allows four doctor visits a year.
“I can use them up just with my GI, so I have to pick and choose which doctor is more important to see. When I had adultBasic I could see whatever doctor I needed to see,” Gatto said. “If I have to spend a week in the hospital, I can’t work and if I can’t work I can’t pay my rent.”
At Stack’s request, state Sen. Lisa Boscola has scheduled a Senate Democratic Policy Committee panel discussion to examine the impact of the end of adultBasic, which will take place on Thursday, March 8 at 1 p.m. at Nazareth Hospital in Stack’s district in Philadelphia.