By A.B. Hill
The Gospel compels us to provide for the poor and care for the sick.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me … The righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, in prison?'” (Matt. 25: 35-36, 39).
Most people are lucky enough to work for an employer that offers health insurance to employees and their families. For the poorest of the poor, Medicaid has provided access to health care for almost 50 years. But more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians fall somewhere in between – without health insurance coverage.
In 2002, Pennsylvania created the adultBasic health insurance program, offering affordable coverage to working adults who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford coverage on their own. In 2010, 40,000 people participated in the program; another half a million eligible adults were on a waiting list.
With funding from the Tobacco Settlement Act and support from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, the Commonwealth was able to offer insurance coverage for a premium much more within reach.
On Feb. 28 the low-cost adultBasic program expired. The people covered by adultBasic will be eligible to move into a Special Care Program. However, participation in the Special Care Program requires higher premiums and covers less care.
The premium increases for the working poor are likely unaffordable for most and the limited health care provided is a far cry from the important coverage previously provided by adultBasic.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association have advocated for the adultBasic program over the years. We are urging the governor and the General Assembly to consider a way to reinstate and sustain the adultBasic health insurance program.
Beginning in March, a lot of focus will be on the state budget debate. With significant economic constraints, some very difficult decisions will be made.
As the Commonwealth considers which programs it can afford, we as a community must remember our Gospel obligation to care for not just the poorest of the poor, but everyone who cannot provide for themselves. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me (Matt. 25:40).”
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A. B. Hill is Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania.