Acevedo Vilá points to possible billion-dollar loss in unused Medicaid funds
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for resident commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá denounced on Tuesday what he said has been a lack of action from Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González as over $1 billion in Medicaid funds might be lost as the island government has until Sept. 30 to use them.
Acevedo Vilá, along with other PDP candidates and current officials, said that as the U.S. Congress approved over $2.9 billion to be used from Oct. 1, 2019 to the aforementioned deadline, the local government has used only 64 percent of the funds and has been unable to allocate the remaining 36 percent. The former governor showed a letter that he sent to both Vázquez and González on Sept. 1 to demand urgency in extending the terms of the funding through congressional legislation.
“What I am telling you is something that I’m not inventing and that came from a secret source, although they wanted to keep it a secret,” Acevedo Vilá said as he revealed a letter that Vázquez sent to both Republican and Democratic members of Congress in which she said the island government has not used the funds due to difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic and bureaucratic procedures of both the federal government and the Financial Oversight and Management Board, and requested that the funds be carried over to the following fiscal year.
According to the governor’s letter, failure to transfer the federal funds to the 2020-2021 fiscal year might affect the financing of critical sustainable measures to improve and increase Medicaid services and that the urgent needs of around 1.4 million Medicaid recipients might be hampered. However, Acevedo Vilá said he questions if her reasons for requesting that the funds be carried over were valid given that she informed Congress a month before the deadline for distributing the funds.
“You don’t discover that you haven’t spent 36 percent of the allocated funds when you have only one month left until the [federal] fiscal year comes to an end,” the candidate said. “What I also find incredible is that this letter was sent in September, with a copy to the resident commissioner and Puerto Rico was not informed. This means that we have to go back to Congress to request a new allocation of federal funds for Medicaid, yet more than a billion dollars was not used.”
Acevedo Vilá added that at the beginning of the administration of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, he and other former governors met as part of the Front for Puerto Rico to find legislation involving the healthcare system to achieve a tax reform, and recovery funds after the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria. At that time, he said, he made himself available to help the then-governor request an extension.
“I’m ready to do it again. I am available to meet with you and whoever you deem necessary to define the strategy and efforts … to guarantee the health services of the Puerto Rican people,” he said.
Reactions from the governing New Progessive Party (NPP) meanwhile were to be expected, as Reps. Yashira Lebrón and Jackeline “Jackie” Rodríguez later on Tuesday rejected Acevedo Vilá’s allegations and said “the [previous] PDP administration snatched the coverage of the medical plan from more than 379,000 Puerto Rican families.”
“We must remind the former governor accused of corruption that it was the mismanagement of the past PDP administration that caused the fiscal cliff that we inherited at the beginning of the [current] four-year term and that, thanks to the work of [Resident] Commissioner Jenniffer González with the Republicans, and [former] Governor Rosselló with the Democrats, we obtained the necessary funds to maintain and expand the services that Vital Plan beneficiaries receive,” Lebrón and Rodríguez said in a letter.