Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) introduced two bills to promote health care equality for Puerto Rico during her first day as the U.S. territory’s Resident Commissioner.
Her Medicaid proposal (H.R. 259) seeks to prevent the territory from losing nearly 80% of its Federal Medicaid funding for healthcare for low-income individuals next year. As the recent Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico explained, “the future financing of the Medicaid program in Puerto Rico is a serious and urgent issue facing federal policymakers attempting to address the territory’s economic and social challenges.”
In Puerto Rico and the other territories, federal Medicaid funding is subject to an annual cap. Once the annual federal funding cap is reached, the territory government is responsible for the remaining cost of all Medicaid services. Puerto Rico’s annual cap in Fiscal Year 2016 was $335.3 million. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) provided for a one-time increase in Medicaid funding for the territories of $7.3 billion, of which Puerto Rico received $6.4 billion, while increasing funding for States on an on-going basis. Puerto Rico’s funding will run out in early 2017 resulting in what is being called the island’s Medicaid “cliff.”
“This would be a budgetary catastrophe, a healthcare calamity, or both,” the Resident Commissioner emphasized, adding that she “would do as much as a Member of the U.S. House without a vote can do to enable Puerto Rico to avoid the territory Medicaid ‘cliff.’”
Gonzalez-Colon also introduced legislation yesterday (H.R. 261) that would treat elderly Puerto Ricans equally with other Americans in the Medicare program that pays for doctor, laboratory, and hospital outpatient services and medical equipment (Medicare Part B).
Residents of every state and territory other than Puerto Rico who receive Social Security benefits are automatically enrolled in Part B when they turn 65. When residents of Puerto Rico turn 65, however, they must take the affirmative step of enrolling in Part B and are subject to a lifetime late-enrollment penalty if they fail to do so. There are nearly 109,000 Puerto Ricans enrolled in Medicare who do not receive Part B benefits, and more than 5,700 paying lifetime, monthly penalties. The Gonzalez-Colon proposal fixes this problem by providing for automatic enrollment under Medicare Part B for residents of Puerto Rico turning 65.
Both bills would implement recommendations of the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico.
Gonzalez-Colon explained that the proposals she introduced yesterday “are just two of the bills that I will introduce for the treatment that Puerto Ricans need and deserve as Americans in national healthcare programs, and just two of the bills that I will sponsor to put the recommendations of the Congressional Task Force into effect.”