WASHINGTON – Yesterday, an agreement among Senate Finance Committee leaders to push this month the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years raised doubts about whether Medicaid funds to stabilize the finances of the Puerto Rican health system could be included in that legislation.
According to the agreement between the committee chairman, Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah), and minority spokesman Ron Wyden (Oregon), that program would be refinanced for another five years.
However, until yesterday afternoon, the pact between the heads of the powerful Finance Committee did not include funds that would solve the so-called "abyss" in Medicaid funds, which would reach $ 369 million this fiscal year and then rise to about $ 1.2 billion that has been asked annually for reimbursement under the Obamacare law, according to a source close to the commission.
"From what I´ve been told, we are not included," said former governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who participated yesterday in a new round of meetings of the coalition Front for Puerto Rico, created by governor Ricardo Rosselló.
Rosselló arrived last night in Washington and will take former governors Acevedo Vilá and Alejandro García Padilla to a meeting with the cameral minority leader, Nancy Pelosi (California), in which they would mainly discuss the Medicaid issue.
The intention of leadership of the Senate Finance Committee is to approve the reauthorization of the CHIP program before the law expires on September 30.
But reports from the House have shown that they can wait until later this year to renew the program, because it will not be until then that in only four jurisdictions - Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington DC – CHIP funds will start to run out.
Senator Hatch indicated that his intention is that the reauthorization of the program does not increase the deficit of the federal government, which will complicate the inclusion of an allocation like the one asked by the authorities of Puerto Rico and the health industry, said sources of Congress.
Earlier this year, speaker Paul Ryan told resident commissioner, Jenniffer Gonzalez, that CHIP's reauthorization was the ideal vehicle for legislating new Medicaid allocations, due to the depletion of Obamacare funds in April.
This fiscal year, under CHIP, Puerto Rico receives $ 172 million, according to the Health Insurance Administration (ASES, Spanish acronym).
"Congress needs to act quickly. The agreement with minority leader Wyden is a good start, "Senator Hatch said in a written statement. Wyden, meanwhile, said the agreement with Hatch is important and hopes to work with him and the members of the Finance Committee in favor of a CHIP extension "as soon as possible."
Until yesterday, the text agreed by the two leaders of the Finance Committee had not been disclosed.
"It's still early to know if CHIP is going to happen in September, but it's an important step," said Roberto García Rodríguez, president of the Medicaid and Medicare Advantage Products Association of Puerto Rico who, this week, leads meetings with representatives of the health industry in Congress.
But Acevedo Vilá said that in this case, it is better not to have an agreement than having a pact that excludes a solution to provide stability to the health system of the island.
"News travels fast. I am surprised and worried, "warned Acevedo Vilá, who was resident commissioner.
Since summer began, Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York) had predicted that everything could end in a new omnibus budget in December. And last week, Congress left for December 8 a possible final decision on the budget and the public debt ceiling.
While MMAPA and the Hospitals Association brought the Medicaid claim to other Congressional offices and the White House Office of Budget and Management, the Subcommittee on Tax Reform of Front of Puerto Rico was holding further meetings in legislative offices.
The group was headed by Raul Maldonado, Secretary of Treasury, former governors Acevedo Vilá and Garcia Padilla, and Undersecretary of Treasury, Roxana Cruz. Maldonado said that the meetings "were very productive".
Former Governor Garcia Padilla said that he advocated for a solution to Medicaid fiscal abyss and new incentives for investment in Puerto Rico during the meetings with Republican Senator Roger Wicker (Mississippi) and Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan (Ohio),
"Both senators know about the fiscal circumstances of the Island in the last 10 years,” said García Padilla.
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