AdultBasic recipients sue Corbett, want program restarted

Brian Bowling
| Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A McKeesport woman who went 10 years without health insurance before enrolling in the state's adultBasic program in 2002 was one of three plaintiffs who kicked off a class-action lawsuit yesterday that seeks to reinstate the program.

Sheryl Sears, 63, said she's one of the many low-income workers in the state who are caught in a dilemma.

"I'm too young for Medicare, and I make a couple of pennies too much for Medicaid," she said.

Sears; Ronald Guiney, 54, of Butler; and Florence Spanos, 63, of Dormont filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court seeking to stop Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly from carrying out the part of Corbett's budget that would take the money that normally funds adultBasic and depositing it in the state's general fund.

The money comes from Pennsylvania's share of the national settlement between tobacco companies and the states. The lawsuit claims Corbett's plan violates the state's 2001 Tobacco Settlement Act, which requires 30 percent of the settlement money the state receives to be shared between adultBasic and Medicaid for workers with disabilities.

Downtown lawyer William Caroselli said his clients and about 42,000 other low-income workers and their families who were in the adultBasic program -- which ran out of money and expired Feb. 28 -- were paying premiums for their health insurance coverage.

"This is not an entitlement program," he said. "Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania legislature are in blatant violation of the law, and the only way to hold them accountable is to take them to court."

Kirsten Page, the governor's spokeswoman, released a statement saying: "The lawsuit is without merit and will be successfully defended in court. The fiscal reality is that adultBasic is not a financially sustainable program."

Corbett previously said they were dealing with a mess created by former Gov. Ed Rendell. Auditor General Jack Wagner said March 3 that Rendell and the Legislature had systematically diverted money from the adultBasic program for years using provisions in the state budget. In one case, they grabbed $121 million for public school employee pensions, Wagner said.

The defendants in the suit are Corbett, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, the House and Senate, and the Treasury Department.

Caroselli said the Treasury Department expects to receive this year's tobacco settlement money April 15. The plaintiffs are asking the department and the court to put a hold on 30 percent of the anticipated $370 million until the case is settled, he said.

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