A “Basic” Travesty

I usually like to start these blog posts with a light-hearted introduction, but this subject is too serious for anything less than brutal and direct honesty.

More than 41,000 Pennsylvanians lost their health care this week, and the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of Gov. Tom Corbett.

AdultBasic was a program that provided working Pennsylvania adults access to affordable health care that they would otherwise not have available to them. The program was so successful that it had a waiting list of nearly 500,000 people, or one in every 15 Pennsylvanians between the ages of 19 and 64.

Such a staggering number only strengthens the already-convincing argument that AdultBasic is both equal parts effective and necessary for the people of Pennsylvania.

The AdultBasic program, initiated under Gov. Tom Ridge, provides coverage for the basic health-care needs of working adults between the ages of 19 and 64. AdultBasic was in no way socialized medicine or a government handout — people paid monthly insurance premiums subsidized by a variety of means, including contributions from “non-profit” insurers operating in Pennsylvania.

During the past six years, contributions from the state’s tax-exempt Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers, more commonly known as “the Blues,” helped to fund adultBasic.

The agreement with the Blues expired Dec. 31, and the fund ran out of money this week. If the Blues continued to fund the program and fulfill their charitable mission, it would cost $150 million, or 2.6 percent of their surplus.

Gov. Corbett has terminated the program and has no interest in bringing the Blues back to the table to negotiate a temporary extension of the agreement to allow long-term adultBasic preservation to be considered as part of the state budget discussion this spring.

The Blues have combined surpluses of $5.6 billion, which is pretty good considering they call themselves “non-profit” organizations to avoid tax liability. To put the amount of their grotesque surplus in perspective, they could give every man, woman and child in Pennsylvania, all 12 million of us, a check for $450 tomorrow and still have enough money to fully fund AdultBasic for a year.

I honestly don’t understand this one. Nothing breaks my heart more than when a constituent comes into my office begging and pleading for some way to get affordable healthcare because his employer doesn’t offer benefits.

I used to be able to point them towards AdultBasic; even though it had a waiting list of over 500,000 people, it was still something. But now, tens of thousands of working men and women will be forced to seek expensive care in hospitals and emergency rooms across Pennsylvania, adding to the bloated costs of our health care system.

Corbett wouldn’t even ask the Blues to contribute a small part of their surplus to fund a truly needed program. This is not an argument born of politics or even policy, but of basic human morality.

If Corbett isn’t willing to ask the Blues to help people in need, maybe he could at least ask them to spend a few bucks on a Bible, and point them to Romans 15:1. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

My colleagues and I in the House Democratic Caucus have called on Corbett to renegotiate with Pennsylvania’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield providers and have asked the governor to sit down with lawmakers to discuss other viable funding options. He has refused on both counts, which is unconscionable.

Corbett should be helping to protect health insurance for working people – not helping to build surpluses for tax-exempt corporations. These are working Pennsylvanians who need help, and the governor is turning his back on them.

All Pennsylvanians deserve access to affordable health care – even those who don’t have millions to spend on lobbyists and campaign donations.

As sitting governor, only Tom Corbett has the ability to craft a reasonable and sustainable solution that keeps the adultBasic program in place, but his private deal with the Blue Cross/Blue Shield companies to transfer some adultBasic enrollees to the Blues’ money-making “Special Care” plans is both cost-prohibitive and threadbare in the coverage it offers.

Corbett is telling these low-income working Pennsylvanians to pay up to five times more money for a health insurance plan that offers extremely limited coverage – including only four doctor visits a year. Meanwhile, the surpluses of the Blues continue to grow by the minute.

Sometimes in government, you need to stand up and be for something. You need to explore every avenue, flesh out every idea and go down kicking and screaming to fight for what is truly right for the people. By refusing to stand up to big insurance carriers to make any effort whatsoever to save AdultBasic, Corbett is speaking volumes about whose side he’s really on.

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