Washington – The leadership of Congress has agreed to grant $295.9 million in additional Medicaid funds for next fiscal year, postponing until March 2018 the risk of the system falling into fiscal abyss.
Although the funds to be approved this week offer a pause, it forces the government and the health industry to start lobbying this very month, in search for a long-term solution, when the reauthorization of the children’s health (S-CHIP) is legislated on, possibly in September.
“We are hopeful with the words of Speaker (Paul) Ryan, who assured that a comprehensive solution over (Medicaid) would be addressed in the near future in another legislative vehicle,” said governor Ricardo Rosselló.
For Puerto Rican Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, “the $295 million included in the package (omnibus bill) are a positive step, but it’s only an advance payment,” for which she urged to renew the pressure and avoid releasing funds now to pay the creditors.
The resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, made the allocation public on Sunday night, as details were just emerging on the omnibus bill which should be passed by Friday at the latest, to avoid a partial shutdown of the federal government and which also include $2.5 million to dredge the port of San Juan and $750,000 for the Martín Peña canal.
The allocation supposes a little over half of the $532 million that the Health Insurance Administration (ASES, by its Spanish acronym) said it needs to mitigate the depletion by the end of 2017 of the close to $1.2 billion in annual Medicaid funds that Obamacare had provided. And just one third of the $900 million that US secretary of Health, Tom Price, said Puerto Rico needed until June 2018.
“We are half way there,” said González.
Until late last week, the US president, Donald Trump himself, was seeking to block the funds, which he considered a “financial bailout” for Puerto Rico, in spite of the fact that the intention is to replace, in part, a current allocation.
“As additional it’s fantastic, but we fall short of solving the problem,” said, for his part, the president of the Hospitals Association, Jaime Plá, on behalf of the Private Sector Coalition.
Commissioner González thanked Speaker Paul Ryan and senator Marco Rubio, as well as representatives of the Rosselló government and the private sector.
But, democrats assured that if the funds are part of the omnibus it is because of the pressure by the minority leaders.
Governor Rosselló said there was a multi-sectorial and bipartisan effort, both in Washington an in San Juan. Among democrats he highlighted Schumer, Pelosi, and Velázquez, and even mentioned former resident commissioner in Washington Pedro Pierluisi, who as part of the previous government promoted addressing the fiscal abyss of the health system.
For his part, democrat senator Robert Menéndez, who like Rubio, Velázquez, and Pierluisi was part of the Congressional Task Group on Economic Development, said that “anything below” the $900 million “is simply insufficient and only serves to keep pushing the problem forward.”
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