House speaker: ‘It is time to act’ on Medicaid parity

By The Star Staff

Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez on Monday affirmed the lower chamber’s commitment to Medicaid parity to stabilize Puerto Rico’s public health system finances.

“It is time to act, and we are optimistic that we can work with Congress to fulfill the proposal of the administration of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, that we have full access to Medicaid on the island,” Hernández Montañez said in written remarks. “Our health system needs a permanent solution to stabilize it.”

On May 28, Biden formally recommended to Congress to give Puerto Rico parity in Medicaid, and to direct the island with equal access to the Supplementary Social Security (SSI) and nutrition assistance programs.

“We cannot give up on our people’s call for social justice,” the House speaker said. “We are obligated to achieve stability and certainty in the financing of public health insurance. That is why we have to continue promoting this agenda, which will only be achieved with persistence.”

Hernández Montañez demanded that the president follow up on his initiatives in Congress, and asked Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia not to give up on the call for equity.

“These initiatives are colorless and impact all socioeconomic sectors on our island. Therefore, we are all called to join forces and work as a team,” the House speaker said. “We have to continue working on this agenda, without pause, to gain access to other programs. The Democratic Party has enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass the necessary language in the federal budget resolution, and we have to take advantage of that juncture.”

Hernández Montañez noted that some of the programs that Puerto Rico is not part of, and could be accessed, include hospice services, improving the pay of health professionals, and increasing the number of people who qualify for the Medicaid program.

“It is essential to recognize the gigantic impact that receiving 83% coverage in Medicaid means for the central government budget,” he stressed. “For example, the budget approved last June (2021-2022) in the legislative assembly, and signed by the Governor, contemplates a contribution to the Vital plan of $1.5 billion from the General Fund, and $557.5 million from federal funds; while in the previous budget that ended in June (2020-2021) only $316.1 million was spent from the General Fund with a federal contribution of $2.8 million.”

“It is not necessary to delve too deeply into the island’s public finances to identify the savings of over $1 billion annually in public spending, if we can get the Biden-Harris administration to honor its word with the Puerto Rican people on the issue of health,” Hernández Montañez added. “Parity in the Medicaid program will finance the system permanently, and federal legislation will give stability and certainty to the system, cementing the exit of the [Financial Oversight and Management] Board, along with a good restructuring of the central government’s debts.”

The House speaker announced that he is in Washington, D.C. this week to engage in negotiations in the U.S. House and Senate, and the White House, to obtain more resources for the island.

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