New Pennsylvania governor likely to end low-cost health insurance for the poor

Pennsylvania’s subsidized health insurance for low-income working people will likely end next month, officials on Gov.-elect Tom Corbett’s transition team said Tuesday, leaving more than 40,000 people with less palatable options and dashing the hopes of more than 400,000 on the waiting list.

“AdultBasic is not sustainable,” said Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the transition, referring to the insurance program that began eight years ago under Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, and was expanded by Gov. Rendell.

Staff for the incoming and outgoing governors traded accusations Tuesday about who was responsible for the program’s demise but both agreed that the money — a combination of tobacco settlement revenues and donations from the state’s four Blue Cross plans — will run out around Feb. 28 and that no good alternative was in place.

“There is no apparent source of funds,” said David F. Simon, chairman of the transition team for insurance matters and chief legal counsel of the Jefferson Health System.

To provide “as soft a landing as possible,” Simon said, the team had negotiated an agreement with the Blue Cross companies to waive their restriction on people with pre-existing conditions who move from adultBasic to the Blues' Special Care plans for low-income people.

Those plans cost several times as much as adultBasic and provide far fewer benefits — a maximum of four doctor office visits a year for most issues, including both primary care and specialists, for example.

“Special care is horrible insurance,” said Philadelphia physician Gene Bishop. "When I was in practice and I first saw someone with that insurance, I thought they were mistaken. Who would sell someone insurance that you can only go four times a year" to the doctor.

“We are disappointed that the state wasn't able to secure additional funding. It leaves 12,000 of our members without coverage,” said Ruth Stoolman, a spokeswoman for Independence Blue Cross, which provides the subsidized adultBasic coverage for people in the southeastern part of the state. “Unfortunately, people are going to have to find other options. Special Care is an option. It is not a perfect option but it is an option.”

Other options are limited.