Policy Committee Panel Discussion Focuses on Fallout of AdultBasic Demise
PHILADELPHIA, March 8, 2012 — One year after the low-cost state health coverage plan adultBasic was dismantled, Pennsylvanians are still struggling to purchase or maintain affordable health care.
A panel discussion hosted by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today at Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia examined how last year’s demise of the program, which provided low-cost health care to working Pennsylvanians who made too much to qualify for Medical Assistance, is impacting the 40,000 former adultBasic recipients. More than half of the former enrollees still do not have health insurance.
The hearing was held at the request of state Sen. Mike Stack (D-Phila.), whose district contained the second highest number of adultBasic recipients in the state.
“AdultBasic served to help working individuals who continue to work hard to make ends meet, especially in these difficult economic times. By the time they pay their bills and buy groceries, they have little left to pay for health insurance,” said state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh/Monroe), Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. “While the Governor felt that defunding and ending adultBasic was necessary and unavoidable, it will likely cause more financial headaches. Our challenge is to fully understand what this program’s demise means, and find ways to help people get affordable coverage.”
During recent budget hearings, Pennsylvania Department of Insurance Commissioner Michael F. Consedine noted that only about 30 percent of former adultBasic recipients were enrolled in the alternative health programs Special Care, Medical Assistance, or PA Fair Care.
“There is no benefit to removing people from health insurance. If anything, it’s more costly,” Stack said. “Healthy workers are productive workers, but without health coverage, they forego doctor’s visits. They are forced to wait to deal with a chronic illness, which often results in a trip to the emergency room. That jeopardizes their health and further burdens our health clinics and hospitals.”
Lorrie Lavinsky, a part-time seasonal worker from Philadelphia, said she struggles to pay her bills and the more expensive alternative Special Care health plan, which costs $148 a month compared to the $36 a month adultBasic premium.
“I’m a fighter but it’s hard to find work. I’m praying nothing happens to me,” Lavinsky said. “Trying to pay for Special Care and rent is impossible but I need my home and my health.”
“AdultBasic was created for a very specific population. Many of them are people with chronic conditions who need to see a doctor on a regular basis,” said Marissa Harris Krey, advocacy developer for the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania. “AdultBasic was a perfect fit for a specific need and since it was eliminated there is no place where they fit in.”
The Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers has reported that calls to its toll-free hotline, which helps connect individuals with health care, has increased by 350 percent, from an average of 200 calls a month to 900 calls a month since adultBasic ended.
The number of daily emergency room visits at 13 hospitals in Pennsylvania with high percentage of Medical Assistance patients has increased in the past year due to the lagging economy, said Brian Eury, regional director of the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council.
“We were disappointed to see expiration of adultBasic,” Eury said. “When people lose their coverage, they are less prone to go to doctor’s office, and when they do show up they are much worse then they would have been.”
Athena Smith Ford, a statewide organizer for the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, agreed, noting that one of her clients, who was a former adultBasic recipient, was in pain but ignored it until she was forced to go to the hospital, which resulted in a five-day stay costing her $70,000.
“It does not make economic sense to deny people of health care,” said Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
Ward suggested a few ways to pay for reinstating adutlBasic, including repurposing tobacco settlement fund dollars, placing a tax on smokeless tobacco, and talking to Blue Cross and Blue Shield about contributing too.
Stack has also called for using tobacco settlement money to fund this program, as it was funded in previous years.
Stack has also recommended pausing the capitol stock and franchise tax phase out for one year to generate $275 million and fund the adultBasic program again until the health exchange is implemented under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in January 2014.