A secret effort by Puerto Rico’s new ‘commonwealth’ party administration to deny health care insurance to Puerto Ricans without it who need medical treatment has been rejected by the Obama Administration.
The bid was consistent with the territorial administration’s goal of exempting Puerto Rico from Federal laws. But it is surprising in light of Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s vocal public support of the 2010 reform of Federal health programs known as ‘Obamacare.’
Garcia’s quiet private attempt to exclude Puerto Rico from a key part of the law is ironic because he emphatically criticized statehood party predecessor for advocating some changes in the law. It is even more ironic because predecessor Luis Fortuno acted to ensure the very same health care coverage of Puerto Ricans with medical needs that the Garcia’s administration opposes.
At issue was a provision of the Federal healthcare reform that requires health insurance companies to insure everyone, regardless of their health or use of insurance.
In May, Garcia’s Commissioner of Insurance, Angela Weyne, led a stealth territorial request to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to waive the requirement in the islands.
The argument was that, unlike in the States, in the territories, Obamacare does not require employers to offer health insurance and individuals to purchase it. In the States, the required new policies for previously uninsured individuals will pay for the coverage of those who need more health care than other people.
But the Garcia Administration’s argument also surprisingly ignored that the territorial government can require health insurance coverage by employers and individuals. This is surprising in light of Garcia saying as recently as yesterday that Puerto Rico should exercise as much autonomy as it can with its political status (territory, sometimes misleadingly called “commonwealth.”)
A Federal health official politely slapped down the Garcia Administration’s request the week before last. He pointed out the territory’s authority to impose the insurance requirements. He also noted that Fortuno and Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi, who now heads the statehood party, sought to ensure that the universal health insurance and other consumer protections of the 2010 law would apply to Puerto Ricans.
The Obama Administration official also said that the U.S. Health and Human Services Department would enforce the law in the territory if the Commonwealth government does not.