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The agreement must be approved in Congress this week. (AP)
The agreement must be approved in Congress this week. (AP)

As part of a budget agreement, the congressional leadership yesterday agreed to allocate up to $ 5,742 billion in new Medicaid funds to Puerto Rico for two years, this money comes with new oversight measures.

The U.S. Senate and House must pass this week the bipartisan, bicameral agreement seeking to prevent a federal government´s partial shutdown Friday midnight and before the Christmas recess.

Although the package represents less than expected, the funds may be used with an average 76 percent federal contribution, above the 55 percent established by current federal law.

This fiscal year, which began in October, Puerto Rico would receive $ 2,623 billion in Medicaid funds. In 2021, the total will go to $ 2,719 billion. And if the Puerto Rican government guarantees that 70 percent of the funds will be used to pay suppliers, then another $ 200 million could come every year.

Following last summer’s corruption cases involving the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration (PRHIA), the measure requires a reform of the health plan contracting process and penalties.

Medicaid funds largely finance the Puerto Rican government health plan, which reaches nearly 1.25 million people.

Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González said the final measure will be closer to the House version and would allow expanding the number of participants.

For less populated territories, the federal contribution for Medicaid services reaches 83 percent.

The possibility of a four-year agreement that would allocate Puerto Rico between $ 11 and $ 12 billion in Medicaid funds is gone. These new allocations will apply to U.S. fiscal years 2020, which began in October, and 2021.

"The White House killed the four-year agreement," said Democratic Representative Nydia Velázquez, who added that she was "relieved this bill addresses, at least temporarily, the shortfall in federal matching funds for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program.”

 “At the same time, Puerto Rico’s disparate treatment under Medicaid remains a longer-term issue that requires resolution,” Velázquez added.

House and Senate bills proposed appropriations between $ 11 and $ 12 billion to the island, with strict oversight measures over the funds, after last summer's corruption cases involving health plan contracts awarded by PRHIA.

Representative Velázquez had originally proposed $ 15 billion over five years.

“In a $ 1.4 trillion budget, Puerto Rico and the other territories will only receive Medicaid funds for two years. President Trump and his Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney opposed an agreement of at least four years,” said Javier Llano, partner at lobbying firm Capitol Hill Advisors.

Another provision of the agreement eliminates for two years the Obamacare law tax on health insurers, which costs those companies on the island about $ 200 million annually.

Ban on Cockfighting

On the other hand, Commissioner González said that when the budget agreement reaches the Rules Committee for consideration, she will promote an amendment seeking a one-year moratorium on the implementation, this Friday, of the ban on cockfighting extended to Puerto Rico and the other territories.

The measure proposes an economic study on the impact of the ban.

"Although we filed the measure (yesterday), we prefer to use language to include it as an amendment in a large bill so that it goes under the radar, as may have happened (when the ban was approved within an agricultural bill)," González acknowledged.

Keila López Alicea collaborated with this story.