John Baer: Gov. Corbett: Read your mail, save the health plan

Posted: February 23, 2011

TOM CORBETT should read his mail.

I read mine and it says real people face real risks if nothing is done about health-care coverage for the working poor. It is set to expire five days from today.

A state program, adultBasic, provides more than 40,000 lower-income Pennsylvanians age 19 to 65 with modest health insurance for $36 a month.

The Corbett administration says that the program is broke, that it dies Monday and that clients should buy bare-bones coverage directly from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

This is akin to tossing an anvil to a person who is drowning.

"I actually tried to buy the same insurance, or close to it, from my Blue," writes Nick B., from Pittsburgh, "and I was denied."

Nick's been on adultBasic a few years. He takes the blood-thinner Coumadin to fight clots like the kind that killed his father at age 33. Nick is 50.

"The Coumadin works, but you need to test your blood all the time," he says, noting that even with Blue Cross coverage, there are limits on doctor visits and tests.

"I may have to skip the tests and hope I don't get blood that's too thin or too thick," he says, "either of those could kill me."

Denise N., from the Philly area, writes that she got "a cold letter" from Independence Blue Cross telling her to see her doctor before Feb. 28.

She's a single mom, works part time and has two daughters, one of whom is disabled.

"When I received the [adultBasic] cancellation letter, I e-mailed Gov. Corbett's office stating my shock . . . no one even responded to me," she says. "Most of us have families and financial situations that don't enable us to have health insurance through our employer. And at the same time make too much money to qualify for Medicaid."

I've written that ending adultBasic is wrong for three reasons.

First, it's short-sighted: Folks without basic care or health insurance end up costing taxpayers more when they get sick.

Second, it's a boon to the Blues: They're already fat with billions of dollars in reserves, are supposed to be nonprofits with charitable obligations and shouldn't be able to skate away from programs such as this one.

Third, it's unconscionable: The Legislature has a $188.5 million stash of cash that can fund the program through April 2012, and lawmakers have primo coverage for which they pay minimally or not at all.

It is sickening to see citizens suffer as programs offering help get cut while perks provided to politicians just go on and on.

As of this month, 40,764 folks are enrolled in adultBasic, 11,722 in the region. Here's the breakdown: 5,929 in Philly; 1,958 in Montco; 1,683 in Delco; 1,429 in Bucks County, and 723 in Chester County.

Lawmakers' health coverage costs taxpayers $19,633 a year per legislator, according to information obtained by the Daily News under the right-to-know law.

Senators pay 1 percent of their salary for coverage. House members pay nothing, but are to start paying 1 percent in July.

Lawmakers' base salary is $79,646; so most pay $796 a year for health insurance, or about 4 percent of the $19,633 cost of coverage.

The rest of us pay, on average, 14 percent of the cost of coverage, or, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about $4,000 a year.

Seem fair to you?

AdultBasic began in 2001 under Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, hardly a redistribute-the-wealth liberal. It's a program paid for with tobacco-settlement money, which is declining, and contributions from the Blues.

Bills are pending to use legislative reserve funds or borrow from "Mcare," a healthy state fund to compensate victims of medical malpractice, to keep adultBasic alive. Neither is given much chance of passage.

Last night, Senate Democrats announced a plan to continue the program through June: have the state and the Blues kick in $25 million each and charge more for adultBasic premiums. The problem is that Republicans didn't take part in shaping the plan. Republicans control the process. And the governor's office says there is no money.

But common sense and/or compassion should force a bipartisan effort to save this program - and the governor should read his mail.

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/JohnBaer. Read Baer's blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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