A Commonwealth Court decision came too late to save the adultBasic health insurance plan for Pennsylvania's working poor in 2011, but the ruling now provides an incentive to reinstate the successful program.
Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini declared as unconstitutional two bills that took tobacco settlement proceeds away from adultBasic and used it for other items in the state budget instead. Without funds, the Corbett administration ended adultBasic in 2011, leaving 41,000 low-income recipients without health insurance.
A lawsuit on their behalf resulted in last week's ruling. The judge stopped short of ordering adultBasic's reinstatement, leaving two possibilities -- one good and one bad.
Let's deal with the bad first. The state Legislature can get around the constitutional question by enacting a new law that changes how the state agrees to spend its future share of the nationwide, $200 billion tobacco settlement. The existing law said 30 percent its allotment should be used for adultBasic and a separate program that assists disabled workers; that didn't happen in 2010 and 2011, which led to the court's decision. If lawmakers simply change the formula, they'll be sidestepping the purpose of the settlement, which was to have tobacco manufacturers help pay for states' medical costs, because use of their unhealthy products drive them up.
The better option would be for lawmakers to use the money to expand health care options for low-income Pennsylvanians by creating a new version of adultBasic. The program worked well, providing low-cost health coverage for Pennsylvanians who made too much money to be eligible for Medicaid but not enough to afford market-rate insurance.
AdultBasic shouldn't have been shut down. Lawmakers should take this chance to start it up again.