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Healthcare for New Floridians from Puerto Rico

The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has prepared a fact sheet for Florida’s new residents from Puerto Rico in response to reports of displaced individuals experiencing difficulty in obtaining health care services despite the fact that they were enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare back in Puerto Rico.

The fact sheet was issued in response to a letter led by Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and signed by nine bipartisan members of Florida’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I am pleased that CMS prepared the fact sheet we requested,” said Murphy. “This fact sheet will provide clarity to displaced individuals trying to obtain health care services when they relocate to the states, whether on a temporary or permanent basis. The fact sheet will also provide important guidance to health care providers, insurers, and state and local government officials in Florida as they work to help displaced families.”

For years, access to needed medical care has been a reason people from Puerto Rico moved to the States. Puerto Rico has unequal treatment under federal healthcare programs, an exodus of doctors leading to a shortage of physicians across the Island, and a lack of medical facilities and supplies. Families and individuals who have been unable to receive the care they need in Puerto Rico have moved stateside to solve that problem.

The catastrophe of Hurricane Maria has obviously made the already dire situation even worse. The State of Florida, with estimates of new arrivals from Puerto Rico as high as 300,000, is struggling to fund housing and schooling needs for the newcomers.

As U.S. citizens, people moving from Puerto Rico to any state have the same rights as citizens who already live in the State. 40 new students from Puerto Rico at a school in Bismark, North Dakota, is an interesting local story, and local leaders can mobilize help for the newcomers.

In Florida, where large numbers of people have arrived in a short time, there are costs and logistics issues that complicate the situation. 7,900 new students from Puerto Rico were enrolled in Florida schools by mid-November. These numbers are too large to handle with local good will and creativity.

Similar issues have arisen for healthcare. Florida leaders warned that failing to provide federal funds for Puerto Rico would simply mean having to provide federal funds for Puerto Ricans in Florida. This has turned out to be true… but the lack of a plan and the addition of Hurricane Maria to the equation has created a problem that goes beyond funding.

The new fact sheet is intended to help with the complications and confusions.

One of the most important pieces of information on the sheet is that newcomers to Florida can’t get immediate medical help with their Puerto Rico Medicaid Government Health Plan (GHP) cards.They must instead establish residency in Florida and then apply for Medicaid in Florida.

The same is true in any State.

In an emergency situation, applicants can just explain that they plan to live in Florida, without having to provide proof of residence. If they do not have needed papers, they can still receive services as soon as they have completed the application. They then have 90 days to prove their citizenship.

People who have original Medicare will be eligible for Medicare benefits immediately. If they are behind on premium payments because of the hurricanes, they will have until February 28, 2018, to catch up without having their coverage terminated.

Those using Medicare Advantage will be able to receive emergency services immediately. However, the emergency rules for Medicare Advantage, a program much more popular in Puerto Rico than in Florida, are complicated. The kinds of coverage available to an individual will depend on the private company providing the Medicare Advantage Plan, the patient’s residence when the state of emergency began, and whether they are moving to Florida temporarily or permanently. The fact sheet includes contact information and suggests that people dealing with Medicare Advantage should get help with their decision making.

The fact sheet also includes contact information for other healthcare programs available to U.S. citizens in States.

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