Demonstrators seek extension of insurance program

    Bundled-up protesters gathered outside the Independence Blue Cross office on Market Street Tuesday afternoon. They engaged in a bit of street theater: a Scroogelike insurance provider handed out coal instead of insurance for Christmas. But their complaints were all business.

    They’re upset that adultBasic, the insurance program for low-income adults, will cease to exist by the end of February unless the state finds more money to keep it running.

    Four Pennsylvania Blue Cross insurance companies have funded the program since 2005, but their contract with the state was set to expire at the end of this year. Back in July, they committed additional funds that were designed to keep the program running until June. But now, the state says the money wasn’t enough; unless additional funds are identified, adultBasic, which insures more than 42,000 Pennsylvanians, will expire at the end of February.

    Katy  Weeks, who helps people find health-care coverage at the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, said Tuesday she’s worried about where her clients will turn for coverage if the program ends.

    “They promised a few months ago that they were going to extend this program until June 2011,”  Weeks said. “Forty-two thousand people is a lot of people to just leave out in the cold.”

    Activists want the insurers and the state to come up with a way to continue funding the program until 2014, when health-care reforms kicks in.

    Independence Blue Cross spokeswoman Ruth Stoolman, who said she doesn’t know why her company is being targeted, said it has provided the funding they promised at meetings back in July.

    “We have honored our commitment, we’ve given exactly what we said we were going to give,” Stoolman said. “We don’t understand why the state is running out of money, we can’t explain that.”

    The state’s website says it had hoped to be able to raise enough money to fund adultBasic until the summer, but has not yet been able to.

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