Corbett, Legislature sued over adultBasic expiration
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Gov. Tom Corbett and other state officials have been named as defendants in a lawsuit for allowing the expiration of adultBasic, a state health insurance program for the working poor.
The suit was filed Monday in Commonwealth Court by three plaintiffs, all from southwestern Pennsylvania, who are being represented by Caroselli Beachler McTiernan & Conboy, a Pittsburgh law firm.
With 41,000 former adultBasic subscribers who had been using the program before it expired at the end of February and hundreds of thousands of people who were on the waiting list, "potentially the class is very large," said firm spokesman Mark Nevins.
The complaint alleges that the state government is violating the law -- specifically, the Pennsylvania Tobacco Settlement Act and the state constitution -- by allowing adultBasic funding to drop to zero. That's because the state law, according to the complaint, requires that a portion of the annual tobacco settlement money go to adultBasic.
The governor on Monday reiterated that the state was trying to save money.
"I would remind everybody, including those people who have filed the lawsuit against whoever they have filed the lawsuit, that this was a program that was not sufficiently funded," Mr. Corbett.
"[The] prior administration did not live up to their end of a bargain that they had with the four Blues. That money is gone. We will not spend money that we do not have."
The Blue Cross-Blue Shield money is gone, but the tobacco money is not. Pennsylvania receives hundreds of millions in tobacco settlement money each year. Last year, the state received almost $350 million.
The tobacco settlement money comes from a 1998 pact between the four largest U.S. tobacco and cigarette companies and the attorneys general of most of the states, who agreed to divide a pot of more than $200 billion over the next 25 years.
"Pennsylvania receives significant payments from the tobacco settlements every year, and state law mandates that those proceeds go toward making Pennsylvanians healthier and that a portion be specifically directed to fund adultBasic," said law firm principal William Caroselli in a statement.
Specifically, the law says that, of the settlement money used for current health services, 30 percent of that fund would be shared between adultBasic Insurance and Medicaid programs, according to the complaint.
The suit names as defendants Mr. Corbett, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, the state House and Senate, House Speaker Sam Smith, Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati and the state Treasury Department. By allowing the program to expire without changing the law that dictates tobacco settlement spending, the Legislature is culpable in this decision, too, the complaints says.
One solution, on the legislative side, would be to pass a law that amends the current tobacco settlement spending setup. Republicans control both the House and the Senate, as well as the governor's mansion this session.
The plaintiffs are Sheryl Sears, Ronald J. Guiney and Florence Spanos. Ms. Sears lives in McKeesport; Mr. Guiney is from Butler, and Ms. Spanos is from Dormont.
"I know how important is it to have health insurance, and I relied on adultBasic for my coverage," Ms. Sears said in a statement. "Unfortunately, that's the only coverage I can afford."
The law firm's principals have given money to a variety of political campaigns over the last 10 years campaigns, both legislative and judicial, but they have not given money to Mr. Corbett, a Republican. Overall, the attorneys' contributions lean toward Democratic candidates, or go to the Pennsylvania Trail Lawyers' political action committee.
First Published March 15, 2011 12:00 am