United States Congress.
United States Congress. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington, D.C. - The chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Democrat Frank Pallone, said yesterday he contemplates the Puerto Rico Medicaid funding bill will go to a separate vote on the House floor.

The other option would be to include the bill in a continuing budget resolution, if by the end of September it has not been possible to pass - as it is likely - the U.S. government’s spending bill for next federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

Although there is an option to include the measure in a budget reconciliation bill, which congressional Democrats and the White House want to pass before the end of 2021 and would not require Republican votes if Senate and House majorities remain united, Pallone said that when such legislation could move forward is uncertain.

For Pallone, who chairs the House committee overseeing the Medicaid program, a very temporary appropriation, for only a few months, while waiting for the budget reconciliation bill, “puts everyone at risk,” referring to the fiscal cliff that Puerto Rico’s health care system would face if by October 1 does not receive new funds.

Pallone spoke to El Nuevo Día yesterday after the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the measure that represents a bipartisan agreement and which over five years would allocate Puerto Rico nearly $3 billion in Medicaid funding, which largely finances the government’s health plan.

The legislation essentially maintains the level of appropriations the island has had for the past two years, but without inflation adjustment. It is far from the claim for parity that the Puerto Rican government has made, with President Joe Biden´s support, which would total an annual appropriation of some $5.2 billion.

“This bill would be the longest extension of increased Medicaid funding for the U.S. territories in more than a decade. While I believe we must find a permanent Medicaid funding solution, I believe this is a very strong bill worthy of bipartisan support,” Pallone said, opening yesterday’s voting session.

The bill’s co-authors, Puerto Rican Democrat Darren Soto and Republican Gus Bilirakis stressed the importance of the legislation’s bipartisan support. For Soto, this increases the possibility to pass the Senate and become law.

Bilirakis insisted that the measure contemplates controls to prevent another corruption case, like the one in the summer of 2019 involving the contracting process for the Vital plan.

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