Health, housing issues to be addressed in 5th special session
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced announced on Monday that the Legislative Assembly will meet for its Fifth Special Session in order to address critical measures related to health, retirement, housing and non-profit organizations as some were left pending after the last ordinary session on July 1.
Vázquez said that to fulfill a promise made during the State of the Commonwealth message, she summoned both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to evaluate 16 bills that will benefit mostly health providers and patients by giving both more power. The special session will open after Executive Order 2020-055 comes into effect.
“As I anticipated and per my commitment to Puerto Rico, I am convening an extraordinary session to attend to several core issues, specifically those related to health policy. During my State [of the Commonwealth] message, I made a commitment to safeguarding patients’ rights. With this in mind, today I announce this public policy that is accessible and effective for the delivery of our health services,” Vázquez said. “This will do social justice to both patients and health professionals so that all citizens receive quality health services and we enact measures to amend the Puerto Rico Pharmacy Law and the Insurance Code in order to streamline the process of adjudication and payment of claims submitted by health service providers to insurers.
For example, Bill 128 seeks to reduce the period that the insurer has to answer a claim over denial of coverage for health service or treatment from 72 to 48 hours, and, with controlled medications, the period would be reduced from 36 to 24 hours. Meanwhile, Bill 129 intends to amend Law 5-2014, known as the Law to Establish the ELA’s Public Policy Related to the Interpretation of the Provisions of the Health Insurance Code and Issue Prohibitions, which will outline more precise and efficient guidelines for the regulations that are enacted on the utilization review processes for medical-hospital services.
“From now on, it will be the sole and guiding criteria to determine the treatment to follow with a patient, and this cannot be altered by a health insurer,” the governor said. “Health treatment and services are to be determined by the doctor and not the insurer.”
The governor also said that Senate Bill 1528, which establishes the Patient Protection Law Against Surprise Medical Bills, will be under evaluation. The measure amends the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Code in order to tackle so-called “surprise billing” through a health plan that will establish consumer protections, transparency measures, cost controls, and liability guidelines outside the provider network.
“One of the biggest issues that our citizens have is that, whenever they visit a health provider, there is a chance that the service they require is not covered by their healthcare plan, [which they only become aware of] once they get surprise bills with emergency room fees or charges for any other service that the patient had no chance to deny,” the governor said. “I have heard from many patients that, during emergencies or even scheduled surgeries, they find out that their health provider is not covered, leading to costly bills. With this bill, we expect to solve this problem.”
Another bill to be evaluated in the special session will be House Bill 2075, which would remove the Forensic Science Bureau from the Public Safety Department (DSP by its Spanish initials), so that it can be a separate and independent agency, and can generate its own funding.
“I consider that the Forensic Science Bureau needs that independence not only for its specificity, but for the amount of work that it delivers to Puerto Ricans,” Vázquez said. “Many of its protocols should be quick and, probably … the DSP … has not performed with the efficiency that we expect. Because of that, we included this bill for the [special] legislative session.”
The governor also announced that she signed the measure that allows the Housing Finance Authority (AFV by its Spanish initials) to transfer repossessed homes to victims who lost their homes during the January earthquakes in the island’s southwestern region. The bill amends the AFV organic law to allow the ownership of repossessed homes and properties to be transferred to municipalities.
“This allows the municipalities of Ponce, Guánica, Yauco, Utuado, Guayanilla, and Peñuelas to donate or give in usufruct the homes to those who lost their homes,” Vázquez said. “Many families will be able to have a home soon.”