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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Health secretary seeks increase in Medicare Advantage funding

Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López

By The Star Staff

Hoping that U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra can provide a long-term solution to improve access to funds for Medicare Advantage in Puerto Rico, island Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López has presented documentation showing the deficiencies of the local health system.

In February, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requested information from Puerto Rico to determine allocations for health assistance programs.

Currently, Puerto Rico residents are ineligible for the Low Income Subsidy (LIS) under Medicare Part D, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and the Medicare Savings Program (MSP).

“I am convinced that we are closer to achieving parity in funds, and we will only stop once we ensure that Puerto Rico receives the same funds as any American citizen living in the States,” Mellado López said. “However, in the short-term, there are administrative mechanisms that allow Secretary Becerra to improve access to the funds we receive and [through which] we can address inequalities in the Medicare Advantage program.”

The Health chief has consistently demanded that Puerto Rico be treated the same as the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) for the financing of the healthcare system. Currently, the island receives 21% less in funds than the USVI and 39% less than the rest of the nation.

Mellado López stressed that the entire health sector collaborated in the exhaustive study to demonstrate the inequalities in the allocation of funds and the unequivocal needs of the island.

As part of the efforts, the Health secretary was in the U.S. capital last week participating in meetings with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which groups all the states, territories and free associated states, including the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, Guam, the USVI, American Samoa and the Mariana Islands.

“We are working tirelessly to address the challenges that the health system represents, which involves the provision of services, but more importantly, to retain doctors and specialists, and increase the competitiveness among providers and hospitals, compared to the [U.S. mainland],” Mellado López said. “With the additional funds, we will achieve competitive rates for suppliers and hospitals.”

The Health secretary noted that the efforts during the past three years led by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and with the support of U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), among other members of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus, have been crucial to gaining traction with the federal government and opening the way for discussions on the distribution of Medicare funds.

According to the information provided by Mellado López, 41.7% of the population in Puerto Rico lives below the poverty level, compared to 12.6% in the mainland U.S. About 38% of adults aged 65 or older live below the poverty level locally, compared to 10.9% on the mainland.

Meanwhile, the population of Puerto Rico requires more intensive care due to its age profile. About 24% of the island’s population is more than 65 years old, compared to 17% of the U.S. population. Not only is the population aging, but so are doctors. Data shows that 47.3% of doctors in Puerto Rico are over 60 years old, compared to 32.9% in the mainland U.S.

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