Authorizing this proposal was part of the conversations that several Board members held last week in New York with Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced. (Suministrada)

Washington - The Fiscal Oversight Board (FOB) authorized the local government to seek federal government approval to include more than 200,000 participants in its health plan during the coronavirus pandemic through September 30, 2021, following the increase in Medicaid funding.

After losing nearly $1 billion in Medicaid funding over the last federal fiscal year, the Board announced yesterday an agreement with the government of Puerto Rico to ask for federal government approval to expand access to the Vital health plan and avoid losing another $600 million.

“The expansion of Medicaid eligibility ends in September 2021, unless Congress approves a fair, long-term solution for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid funds,” said JSF Executive Director Natalie Jaresko, who indicated that the fiscal body is proposing to link access for new beneficiaries to the federal government’s declaration of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorizing this proposal was part of the conversations that several Board members held last week in New York with Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, Secretary of Health Lorenzo González Feliciano, and Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA) Executive Director Omar Marrero. González announced he tested positive for COVID-19 after that trip.

The Board had refused for a temporary extension in the number of Vital plan participants, which is now funded mainly with Medicaid funds.

“The decision comes after several processes in which the Board had refused to allow including people without health plans for medical coverage benefits amid a pandemic,” said Vázquez Garced.

Through the agreement, the government of Puerto Rico will have to request approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for a temporary increase in the income level for a person to be able to access the Vital plan and Medicaid funds.

The government of Puerto Rico, in turn, will have to amend Vital Plan contracts focused on the temporary expansion in coverage. In December 2019, the federal government approved $5.74 billion in Medicaid funds for Puerto Rico that would cover federal fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

In a September 1 letter released by former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, Vázquez Garced had warned that the Board´s refusal to expand access to the health plan and complications stemming from the pandemic in the supply of medical services would result in the loss of $1.054 billion of the $2.916 billion in Medicaid funds that the island had approved by the end of that month.