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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Lawmakers urge business, nonprofit groups to join efforts to avert healthcare cliff in PR

House Majority Leader Ángel Matos García

By The Star Staff

Several island lawmakers, including Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez, called upon business, industrial, professional and nonprofit groups on Sunday to join efforts to save the government’s health insurance card.

Hernández Montañez, along with Finance and Budget Committee Chairman Jesús Santa Rodríguez, House Majority Leader Ángel Matos García, and Health Committee Chairwoman Sol Higgins Cuadrado, warned in an open letter that federal Medicaid cuts would result in a healthcare cliff.

Hernández Montañez pointed out that according to the certified Fiscal Plan for 2021, the central government lacks the resources to pay debt service and Puerto Rico would not receive a permanent increase in the Medicaid program’s financing levels.

Santa Rodríguez warned of the danger that the reduction in Medicaid funding would represent for the health of Puerto Rico residents and its impact on local coffers.

“Puerto Rico faces a direct and imminent threat on the road to recovery: the loss of funding for Medicaid if the problem is not addressed at the federal legislative level,” he said.

The current federal legislation only guarantees $400 million in Medicaid funding for the island, while the program costs some $4 billion. He also said the total general fund budget is $11 billion, which makes it impossible to commit 35% of the budget, approximately $3 billion, to finance the program with local funds without putting essential services at risk.

“The impact that this would have on the current Fiscal Plan, our agreements with creditors, and our limited resources would completely undermine each of the achievements so far,” Santa Rodríguez stressed.

“Puerto Rico would be forced to start from scratch,” he added. “The [Financial Oversight and Management] Board and the government are directly responsible for ensuring that we avoid this calamity for the good of Puerto Rico.”

Higgins Cuadrado noted that the oversight board is aware of the threat to island residents’ health.

“The Board recognizes this reality and thus expressed it in its Certified Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico, describing the potential disaster that this scenario would represent,” she said. “Any revision that results in a reduction in Medicaid funding would require a corresponding drastic reduction in services to Medicaid beneficiaries, reductions in fees for health providers and their services, and a reduction in the total number of beneficiaries.”

Matos García highlighted some of the steps taken in recent days by various sectors that have gathered in Washington, D.C.

“We have worked tirelessly to push Congress and President Biden’s administration in the right direction as this situation approaches,” he said. “In the last week alone, a bipartisan and multisectoral delegation, made up of elected officials from the delegations of the Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party, together with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and the Hospitals Association of Puerto Rico, met head-on with elected officials and their teams from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the White House, and other key players in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, and lobbyists in Washington, D.C. The consensus is unanimous: any reduction in Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico would permanently undermine Puerto Rico’s recovery.”

A letter sent to the oversight board requests its collaboration in transmitting the message to President Biden, Congress, and any other party with interest in the matter.

“Thus, we strongly urged the private sector of Puerto Rico to join in this effort to guarantee the stability of our health system,” the lawmakers said in the letter, “thus paving the way for a reliable and well financed health infrastructure that honors health services in Puerto Rico as the highest priority.”

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