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Court rules for plaintiffs in adultBasic suit

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 4:26 a.m.

Commonwealth Court ruled on Tuesday in favor of plaintiffs, including six Mon-Yough residents, in a March 2011 case challenging the state's use of tobacco settlement funds.

The court's President Judge Dan Pellegrini declared unconstitutional decisions by Gov. Tom Corbett's administration and the General Assembly to end adultBasic health insurance for 41,000 lower-income adults and divert funds from the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities program.

“The attorneys called me and I cried,” said Sheryl Sears, 65, of McKeesport, lead plaintiff in the adultBasic class action suit filed by the law firm of Caroselli, Beachler, McTiernan & Conboy.

Defendants included Corbett, budget secretary Charles Zogby, treasurer Rob McCord, House speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, and Senate president pro tem Joseph Scarnati, R-Brockway.

“This is a significant victory for people in Pennsylvania who work hard and play by the rules, but can't afford private insurance,” attorney William R. Caroselli said.

AdultBasic was established in 2001 and received money from a fund set up by the four largest U.S. tobacco companies in 1998 to resolve a lawsuit by 46 states.

“It confirms what we've been saying,” Caroselli associate David S. Senoff said. “Killing the adultBasic care program was not only mean spirited; it was against the law.”

Pellegrini denied a request to reinstate adultBasic under court supervision and reimburse $200 million diverted away over the past two years.

Still, he directed the defendants to appropriate 30 percent of the tobacco settlement fund to “health investment insurance pursuant to Chapter 13 (adultBasic) and for the purchase of Medicaid benefits for workers with disabilities pursuant to Chapter 15,” the Medicare assistance program.

“I'll take the victory, even though we are not going to get credit from the past,” Sears said.

In December, Sears became eligible for Medicare and now pays $70-$80 a month for secondary coverage from UPMC.

It's more than the $36 she paid monthly for adultBasic, but less than $169 paid each month for Special Care secured in a compromise between the administration and four Blue Cross entities, including Highmark.

“I had to borrow money from family, friends and others,” Sears said.

“We are reviewing the legal and budgetary issues related to the court's ruling,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, press secretary in the Governor's Office of General Counsel.

“The court reaffirmed our position that these valuable programs should never have been terminated,” said state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, whose caucus filed a brief supporting the plaintiffs.

Costa's 43rd District constituents include Alicia Rager of Munhall, one of 74 plaintiffs signing on to the adultBasic class action with Sears and fellow McKeesport residents Blanche Hoover, Angela Stetz and Sharon and Becky Thir.

Costa called on Corbett “to commit himself to funding these important programs” and reverse his opposition to an expansion of Medicaid as offered to the states under the federal Affordable Care Act.

McCord agreed about Medicaid expansion, but Americans for Prosperity Pennsylvania director Jennifer Stefano said it would cost Pennsylvania more than $4 billion in new spending through 2021, with no promise of continued help from the federal government.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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