Pa. House debates plan to cover uninsured adults

by MARK SCOLFORO – The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. – House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a billion-dollar-plus plan to roll out state-subsidized health insurance for about 270,000 uninsured Pennsylvania adults over the next five years.Backers promoted it as the next logical step to follow recent state laws that cover children and pay prescription costs for the elderly.

The sponsor, Rep. Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne, said it is nearly impossible to survive in modern society without health insurance.

“If you don’t have health care in Pennsylvania, frankly, you can lose everything,” he said.

Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, criticized its funding mechanism and the need for other legislation to pass in order for Eachus’ measure to take effect.

“How many people will get more health care under this law?” Maher said. “The sum total of people that will have extended health care come July, come December, come a year from now, under this law, would be zero.”

Funding would come from premiums paid by the people covered, tobacco settlement money currently used for the state’s existing health insurance subsidy for adults, and money that subsidizes medical malpractice insurance for doctors.

Legal residents ages 19 to 64 who meet income guidelines and who have gone six months without insurance would qualify for what would be known as the Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care program. People at higher incomes would pay monthly premiums.

The money also would help companies with fewer than 50 employees provide health insurance as long as coverage is offered to each employee, and half the employees participate.

The program would be similar to the adultBasic insurance program that already exists, and eliminate adultBasic’s 80,000-person waiting list. But it would add four types of coverage to what is available under adultBasic: prescriptions, behavioral health, prevention and wellness, and chronic disease management.

Physicians would still be eligible for the malpractice subsidy if they consent to treat patients covered by the new health care program as well as those under the “Cover All Kids” health insurance program passed in 2006.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who wants to cover all 800,000 uninsured Pennsylvania adults, said the governor was supportive of the legislation as a step in the right direction.

Eachus’ legislation was an omnibus amendment to a bill that already passed the Senate that extended the doctors’ malpractice subsidy.

Republicans objected to the diversion of medical malpractice funds, but a series of GOP amendments to address that issue were defeated along party lines.

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