By Emma Lowenberg, Intern
Consumer health advocates from across the state came to Harrisburg Wednesday to speak out against a plan that would redirect the state’s share of a legal settlement with tobacco companies away from health care purposes.
Since 2001, tobacco settlement dollars have helped seniors age at home, reduce tobacco- related health care costs, and offset some of the costs for hospitals treating uninsured patients. They support life sciences research that brings jobs and wealth to the Commonwealth.
And until March, tobacco funds helped provide health insurance for the uninsured through the state’s adultBasic program. That program was ended in March after another funding source expired.
Now, a state budget plan that passed the House would eliminate the Tobacco Settlement altogether and fold those funds into the state’s General Fund. The Governor has also proposed diverting $220 million from the fund to create a business loan program.
In meetings with senators and at a Capitol press conference, advocates working with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network made the case for preserving the tobacco funds as a dedicated source for health care funding.
“Our message to lawmakers is simple: don’t turn your back on the commonwealth’s commitment to health care funding and don’t turn your back on the people who lost their health coverage through adultBasic,” Sharon Ward, Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said at the press conference.
Several other speakers also raised concerns about a lack of affordable health care for working adults who cannot afford health insurance.
Only about a fifth of those insured by adultBasic were able to obtain health insurance elsewhere, mostly through “Special Care,” a Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan that is much more costly and provides far fewer doctors’ visits, diagnostic testing, and other services than adultBasic did.
In many cases, working adults who were able to afford insurance through adultBasic now must choose between buying health insurance or paying their rent and buying their groceries. That’s why it’s so important to preserve the Tobacco Settlement Fund.
As John Meyerson of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 said at the press conference: “This is money that was dedicated to health care. This is money that has to remain dedicated to health care. This is money that has to remain providing benefits to working people who need health care coverage.”
Emma Lowenberg served as a 2011 summer intern with the Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.