HARRISBURG, Pa. – On May 1 over 200 people gathered here for a rally and lobby day to tell Gov. Mark Schweiker, ‘Hands off our health care.’ The crowd included two busloads of uninsured workers and unemployed workers from Philadelphia, sponsored by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP) as part of the Pa. Hands Off Our Healthcare Coalition.

Gov. Schweiker wants to transfer money set aside for Adult Basic Coverage – $77 million earmarked for 2001-02 and $17 million earmarked for 2002-03 – to the General Fund. This money came from the Tobacco Settlement funds and was appropriated for uninsured adults who can’t afford health care insurance.

This insurance program was delayed for a year while 480,000 Pennsylvanians who would have been eligible remain uninsured. Gov. Schweiker also wants to cut medical assistance and health insurance for workers with disabilities.

At the rally, chaired by Evonne Tisdale, assistant director of PUP, speaker after speaker testified to their hardships due to lack of healthcare coverage. State Sens. Costa, Hughes and Schwartz and state Reps. Thomas, Washington and Kucovitch vowed they would not allow the governor to raid the Adult Basic Coverage fund.

Bill George, president of the AFL-CIO State Federation, assured those at the rally that ‘all of labor support you.’ George questioned why the governor wants to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable while asking the legislature to cut corporate taxes.

Hazel R. told how she had worked for Philco-Ford for 18 years making radios for cars and trucks. Most of these radios are now made in Brazil and Mexico. Then the plant was sold. Hazel and many others were laid off last November. ‘I suffer from asthma. I need medication and access to quality care, just like I had when I was working. I cannot afford to pay the high insurance premiums any more,’ she said. But she could afford to pay $30 a month if accepted in the Adult Basic Coverage program.

Only 40,000 eligible adults will be allowed to participate if Gov. Schweiker is allowed to transfer funds from this program. This is less than 10 percent of those who could benefit from the program.

Evonne Tisdale suggested that the present state deficit be addressed by increasing the tax on cigarettes. Raising the cigarette tax to the national average would generate $186 million – enough to restore the proposed cuts to Medical Assistance and restore proposed funds to be transferred from Adult Basic Coverage.

After the rally, the crowd visited legislators to lobby against the transfer of the funds. A two-thirds vote of the legislature is needed to allow the governor to transfer the funds. The message to the legislators was: ‘Don’t break the law. Keep your promise and give uninsured Pennsylvanians a chance to have quality affordable health insurance.’ Most of the visits were promising.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net