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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Health Department says budget falls short




By The Star Staff


Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López told lawmakers Monday the agency needed funding for permanent works and to fund pensions.


Mellado said the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) proposed a base budget for the agency’s operation during the next fiscal year of $1.1 billion, a decrease of $26.2 million in charges to the General Fund and another of $27.6 million in federal allocations.


Of the recommended Health budget, $346 million corresponds to the General Fund and special allocations; $172 million would come from special state funds and own revenue; and $596 million would be acquired through federal funds.


In his presentation, Mellado stressed the need to increase funds to cover permanent improvements and the “PayGo” pension payment system, items not included in the budget recommended by the Board. “After preparing the presentation, we came to know that in the budget recommended by the governor our needs are being met,” Mellado López expressed before the Joint Treasury Committee.


Health’s petition also seeks $23.5 million in matching federal funds to implement Medicaid programs; $7.5 million to pay for electric energy services; $14 million for medical residences; and $14 million for home payments under the Intellectual Disability Program.


Mellado López added that he has $302.4 million for various improvement projects in progress. Of this money, $49 million belongs to the Ramón Ruiz Arnau Hospital in Bayamón, $47 million to the University Adult Hospital, and $44.54 million to the University Pediatric Hospital, among others.


For the permanent improvement funds, he requested an extension of validity for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, since $72.9 million is in the process of being awarded in auctions, $129.3 million has been spent, and there is a balance of $100 million left to be obligated, of which $85 million belong to the current fiscal year.


Regarding the Medical Services Administration (ASEM), executive director Jorge Matta González broke down a proposal amounting to $201 million. Of this amount, $44.3 million comes from the General Fund and another $156.7 from own income.


Matta González stressed to lawmakers that ASEM is in the final stage of implementing the Remuneration Plan for all employees of the Medical Center according to the agreements established with the General Union of Workers.


“If we add this December Remuneration Plan to the second part of the negotiation that we are carrying out now, 100 percent of the Medical Center employees are going to receive some (salary) increase,” the lawyer said, while specifying that the adjustment It is equivalent to 10% above the market average.


“What this would guarantee or achieve is that the direct care employees of the Medical Center for the first time possibly in history would be above the entire health industry market in Puerto Rico,” he stated.


On the other hand, the proposed budget for the Mental Health and Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA) amounts to $144.2 million, considering the “Pay As You Go” payment of almost $38.9 million.


“Although this operational budget addresses most of the needs of our agency, it does not include $16.9 million, which is essential to guarantee the continuity and improvement of the services and facilities that make up the ASSMCA programs,” reported Carmen Bonet Vázquez, administrator. from the agency.


Meanwhile, the Comprehensive Cancer Center, attached to the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), requested an increase of $22.4 million from the General Fund and another $6.8 million for capital improvements for the next fiscal year.


Executive director Marcia Cruz Correa indicated that the main reason for this increase is that the assumptions considered for the projection of income and expenses of the current budget have not materialized. She explained that from July to December 2023, the average census has fluctuated between 30 and 74 beds occupied out of only 60 that are available.


“We need the investment of resources to increase recruitment, the hiring of professional services and complete investments in capital improvements so that the Comprehensive Cancer Center is at 100 percent operational capacity,” said Cruz Correa.


To continue the operations of the four core areas, the public corporation requested a consolidated budget of $128.5 million for fiscal year 2025. Cruz Correa also emphasized the need to approve an increase of $2 million for the Radiotherapy Center to recruit additional staff amid a doubling in the daily census from 40 to 80 patients at its clinics.


For its part, the Cardiovascular Center of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean has a recommended budget of $90 million for fiscal year 2025 charged to its own income. For the payroll item, an increase of $2.1 million was requested as a result of new recruitments, mainly for positions related to direct health services and due to the Classification and Remuneration Plan.


“The increase in the budget becomes imperative due to the implementation of a new Compensation Plan… for the payment of payroll and to cover 114 vacant positions necessary for the operation,” said Marrero. “There has not been a satisfactory recruitment of the necessary personnel to fill the positions in calls.”


The Center for Diabetes Research, Education and Medical Services (CDPR) also appeared at the public hearing, whose executive director Miguel Bustelo required a recurring allocation of $2 million from the General Fund.


Bustelo affirmed that with this recurring allocation it will be possible to increase the offering of services to prediabetic and diabetic patients, in addition to restarting the research, education and prevention agendas of the disease. He stressed that the cost of preventively treating a patient at the Center represents a “considerable savings” of $29 for every dollar of treatment. For this reason, he highlighted that the recurring allocation would allow for savings of $58 million in the medium-long term.


“This savings would positively impact the health services system of the government of Puerto Rico, the medical plans, employers, the country’s economy and, most importantly, diabetic patients,” he said.

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