Governor, US health officials meet to discuss PR Medicaid funding crisis
By John McPhaul
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced met Tuesday with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region 2 Director Anthony C. Ferreri, regional administrators, and representatives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Region 2 New York City office to discuss Puerto Rico’s healthcare system and the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the meetings, the governor was joined by Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Executive Director Jennifer M. Storipan and island Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano.
The governor discussed the island’s Medicaid program, the central government’s response during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic emergency, and additional ways to strengthen Puerto Rico’s health care system.
For the past two years, the Puerto Rico government, with assistance from the PRFAA, has focused and directed its efforts toward providing the people of Puerto Rico with a fair and just healthcare system with an increase in the allocation of federal funds assigned to the island’s Medicaid program.
Nonetheless, after receiving a historic sum of $5.5 billion for the island’s Medicaid program in December 2019 for fiscal years (FY) 2020 and 2021, a portion of the funds appropriated for FY 2020 are currently at risk because of the many circumstances that have affected Puerto Rico, delaying the process of utilizing those funds.
Those circumstances range from the island’s receiving the funds three months into the start of the federal fiscal year, to the Financial Oversight and Management Board’s refusal to raise the Puerto Rico poverty level to expand the base of coverage, and the island’s current struggles with COVID-19. Thus the governor called for Tuesday’s meeting to discuss ways to work with the federal government to maximize the island’s usage of the aforementioned funds.
“I want to assure the people of Puerto Rico that I will do all that is in my power to guarantee them the health care system they deserve,” Vázquez said. “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges the island is confronting, we must fight even harder to have access to these funds that will keep our people and their loved ones safe. We have advised Congress on the many challenges affecting our island, particularly the usage of these assigned federal funds; however, I am confident that the outcome of the meetings we are conducting will be of benefit to our island, and we can revisit those conversations.”
Storipan added that “[u]nder my tenure, PRFAA has worked tirelessly with the governor to increase the federal funding for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program culminating with the increased funding and FMAP [Federal Medical Assistance Percentage] received at the end of last year.”
“While we have had some setbacks in utilizing the money, we continue to direct our efforts to maximizing federal funds received and providing a health care system that is fair and efficient for those who need it the most,” she said.
Vázquez also met Tuesday with the Region 2 administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Tom Von Essen, who indicated that in addition to the historic assignment of close to $13 billion for the island’s electric power and educational systems, more jobs and aid are being discussed for Puerto Rico.
“We appreciate the opportunity to meet with Tom Von Essen at the FEMA office to ensure the continuity of work between the government of Puerto Rico and the federal government, especially now that we have just been awarded the historic amount for our electric power and education system,” the governor said. “We will continue working together on the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.