Judge directs state’s tobacco fund to health coverage
HARRISBURG – A portion of Pennsylvania’s tobacco settlement proceeds must fund the defunct adultBasic health insurance program for lower-income adults or a similar plan, rather than be used to help balance the government budget or pay for teacher pensions, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini, applying a previous and related court ruling, declared unconstitutional two state laws that siphoned the money away from adultBasic and Medicaid for disabled workers.
He threw out state laws passed in 2010 and 2011 that diverted funds from a landmark 1998 settlement with tobacco companies. He denied a request from those who sued that adultBasic be reinstated under court supervision and that some $200 million be reimbursed to the funds from those two years.
Lawyers for the dozens of adultBasic enrollees who challenged the laws said the decision means adultBasic, closed down by Gov. Tom Corbett shortly after he took office in 2011, should be reinstated.
One of the lawyers, David Senoff, called the decision “a great win for low-income Pennsylvanians.”
“It confirms what we’ve been saying all along: Killing the adultBasic Care program was not only mean-spirited, it was against the law,” Senoff said.
The judge noted that Corbett’s administration has said the required 30 percent portion of the tobacco money is all going to Medicaid, and it was not clear how much would need to be dedicated to an adultBasic-type program to comply with his decision.
There was no immediate reaction to the decision by Corbett or the Republican legislative leaders who were among the other defendants: House Speaker Sam Smith and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.
The other defendant, Democratic state Treasurer Rob McCord, said he hoped the Corbett administration would reconsider its decision not to go along with an expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
“It’s time for them to get it right for a change and act in the best interests of the people they’re supposed to protect,” McCord said.
Pellegrini wrote that some tobacco money must go to adultBasic unless the Legislature changes state law accordingly.
The plaintiffs said the tobacco fund has been taking in more than $300 million a year, and 30 percent of that must go to Medicaid for disabled workers and adultBasic or something like it.
Corbett said when he pulled the plug on the 41,000-enrollee adultBasic program that it was unaffordable. He and fellow Republicans in the General Assembly blamed his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell, for the death of adultBasic, arguing it had relied too heavily on money from health insurers, kept premiums too low and enrolled too many people to be sustainable.
AdultBasic began in 2002 for lower-income working adults who earned too much to qualify for Medicaid or were not old enough for Medicare. It covered major surgery but not dental costs or prescriptions.