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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor: Vital plan changes will address health workers’ demands

General Workers Union President Gerson Guzmán López

By John McPhaul

Faced with the demands of island health professionals regarding their salaries and working conditions, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Wednesday that those demands will be met thanks to changes to the Vital government-sponsored health plan.

“We are in the process of significantly changing the Vital program, the Vital plan, to, among other things, make sure that medical providers, including physicians, are fairly compensated,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “A [compensation] rate will be established that is mandatory, not suggested. Right now, the program works based on a rate that is suggested.”

“If I remember correctly, 70 percent of the Medicare fees,” he continued. “In the next round that begins in January of next year, it will be required. And we are going to be requiring, among other things, that specialists and subspecialists receive compensation that is comparable to that received by their counterparts in the states. Access to doctors in the Vital plan records will be streamlined so that their entry and permissions to render services to the program are not difficult. It will be required that when the doctor is already contracted, his contract cannot be canceled except for just cause. The Insurance Commissioner of Puerto Rico is also stepping in, interceding between doctors and insurance plans to verify that practices are safe.”

Earlier in the day, General Workers Union (UGT by its Spanish initials) employees who work in the Department of Health demanded fair wages, along with the recruitment of the necessary personnel to face the existing crisis in Puerto Rico’s health system.

“These personnel who are here this morning demand that they be given salary justice at a time when our country’s health system is once again experiencing a crisis,” UGT President Gerson Guzmán López said in a written statement. “In recent days, what we have been denouncing for years has been in the news, the lack of personnel in hospital institutions and health services due to miserable wages and poor employment conditions.”

Guzmán López attributed the labor flight and lack of personnel to the uncompetitive salaries earned by professionals who, due to the lack of personnel, often have to work 12-hour shifts.

“Many of these workers have base salaries that, after due deductions, are reduced to $500 every two weeks,” the union leader said. “These workers are essential and indispensable in the country’s health service institutions and deserve fair pay. The flight of this valuable personnel is due, on many occasions, to the fact that they accept job offers outside the island where they are paid up to more than double what they are paid here. As long as the salaries are not attractive and competitive, the lack and exodus of personnel will continue to increase.”

On Tuesday, Physicians and Surgeons Association President Carlos Díaz Vélez said that if the government and the Financial Oversight and Management Board continue to not give priority to the medical services crisis on the island, then health professionals will urge their patients to express themselves in the streets.

“We doctors have been listening to the different sectors of society and to health professionals, and we see that the indignation and pain that we feel and that the people feel, and what they suffer, is increasingly similar to the climate that led to the historic events of the summer of 2019,” Díaz Vélez said at a press conference. “I do not rule out the probability that tens of thousands of health professionals will call on the people to express themselves on the streets, on the highways and everywhere, to put an end to the tyranny that the insurers have assembled together with the governments in office.”

He spoke about several initiatives that have been presented to address the situation, but have not been met with support from elected leaders.

The initiatives proposed by the Physicians and Surgeons Association require private organizations, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor to put action into words. Some require legislation to amend laws, some require the passage of new laws, and others may be passed by executive order. The current situation calls for urgent action from all sectors, Díaz Vélez said.

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