WASHINGTON - The urgency to find an allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars that would mitigate at least until Puerto Rico’s next fiscal year the depletion of Medicaid funds that Obamacare has provided so far, was put on hold until next week.
But, following the explosive twits by US president, Donald Trump, characterizing a Medicaid allocation for the Island as “financial bailout” –a forbidden fruit within the republican establishment,– the uncertainty is nowhere near from being clarified.
“A lot of frustration has been generated,” said a lobbyist close to the debates, highly concerned by the intervention of the president of the United States and that the government of Ricardo Rosselló, just like with the status debate, should have been caught off guard again.
Trump’s twits coincided with reports that investment funds with Puerto Rico bonds are looking to complicate the government’s agenda by conditioning an allocation of Medicaid funds to the delay of the effect of title III of PROMESA, which would allow the restructuring of the entire public debt via the courts.
Despite the pressures, the resident commissioner in, Jenniffer González, said yesterday there is a preliminary agreement in the leadership of the US House of Representatives to grant a “funding bridge” of $582 million for Puerto Rican fiscal year 2017-2018, which starts in July. “There are no problems in the House with the money,” said commissioner González, who met on Wednesday night with House speaker Paul Ryan.
But, congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York) held that her democrat caucus had warned speaker Ryan demanding an allocation of $900 million, just as she recommended in a letter sent last week to members of Congress and governor Ricardo Rosselló by US Health Secretary, Tom Price.
From the Senate, the office of minority spokesperson, Charles Schumer, told congresswoman Velázquez that the actual offer by republicans is too low, just about $145 million.
“It’s the democrats who’ve made Puerto Rico a priority because Ryan wanted to deal with Puerto Rico in the SCHIP (the reauthorization of the children health plan),” said Velázquez, who yesterday used a turn during the meeting of the democratic caucus to warn that they now have power to negotiate, because republicans would lack the votes necessary to pass an omnibus budget bill next week.
Commissioner González believes the possibilities for greater controversy may lie in the Senate, where the majority is 52-48 and republicans need 60 votes to carry a bill to a final vote.
Senator Eduardo Bhatia, spokesperson for the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, by its Spanish acronym), said that although everything indicates that obstructing a significant Medicaid allocation doesn’t have much support at this time, the fear is that if republicans are short of votes, they may open the door to venomous pills such as delaying the effect of Title III without extending the stay on litigations against the government, which expires on Monday.
The two US legislative chambers have foreseen to pass today, at the latest, a resolution that extends the current level of federal spending until May 5. By then they expect to have an agreement over an omnibus bill, a measure that would include other issues, such as Medicaid, while at the same time funding the federal government until September.
Under that plan, Puerto Rican authorities and health industry representatives would have to go back to Congress and seek a long-term solution towards the reauthorization of the SCHIP program, which should occur by September 30 at the latest.
The most recent calculation by the Health Insurance Administration (ASES, by its Spanish acronym) is that the Obamacare Medicaid funds run out in December, which would leave a gap of close to $562 million in the Mi Salud program of the Puerto Rican Government.
Commissioner González acknowledged that she had been aware for some days of attempts by investment funds to push for a measure that would postpone the effect of title III. But, Ryan told her there is no space to amend PROMESA.
“Puerto Rico has fallen (in the middle of) a political battle,” she said, referring to the squabble between republicans and democrats.
González believes that the controversial twits by president Trump, which drew condemnation from the Island, intended to add Puerto Rico to the anger of the White House with the demand by democrats in Congress for the next budget resolution to include close to $7 billion in subsidies related to the Obamacare program. For commissioner González, “Puerto Rico has become the ham in the sandwich.”
In remarks to the chamber, the congresswoman advocated for listening to secretary Price, who "acknowledged that Puerto Rico needs $900 million in Medicaid funding. This time, I agree with the Secretary.”
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