The Government of Puerto Rico’s Florida office is making up for a Federal government failure in serving residents of the State, although the insular government has had to raise taxes sharply and is cut spending substantially in the territory — and the Federal service is not available in Puerto Rico.
According to WFTV, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s Federal affairs office in Kissimmee has brought on more staff to keep up with the demand.
The failure is in the Spanish version of the Website for signing up for new healthcare insurance subsidies created by the 2010 Federal healthcare reform known as ‘Obamacare.’
Since the Website is hard to navigate, the office is helping people enroll for the benefits. It has devoted several days to the effort so far and will do so every Wednesday through the end of March.
It has three workers helping citizens of Florida sign up for the benefits that Puerto Ricans can’t receive.
Middle-income residents of States are eligible for the new subsidies. The new Federal healthcare insurance exchange program is paying part or most of the cost of insurance premiums for residents of States earning from 100% to 400% of the Federal poverty level. In 2014, this is from $11,670 to $46,680 in the case of an individual, with $4,060 to $16,240 more for each additional family member. So, for example, families of four with incomes between $23,850 and $95,400 can receive the subsidies.
The Obamacare law included just $925 million for middle-income insurance premium subsidies in the Commonwealth from this year through 2019. It has been estimated that equal subsidies in the territory would cost $6.75 billion over the six years.
Because Federal policymakers recognized that the $925 million would not be sufficient to pay for substantial subsidies in Puerto Rico, the law permits the government of the territory to use the money for its Medicaid program, which pays for healthcare for low-income individuals and families.
Since the Commonwealth government does not even provide healthcare for all individuals and families earning less than the amount needed to qualify for the subsidies in the States because of a lack of funding, it is using the $925 million for its low-income healthcare program. The program also receives a much smaller financial contribution from the Federal government than the Medicaid programs of the States.
The Federal middle-income subsidy program was created to insure as many individuals who lack healthcare insurance or adequate insurance as possible. Of some 282,000 Puerto Ricans who did not have insurance during the last quarter of last year, only 1,882 have obtained coverage through an alternative subsidy program created by the Garcia Administration, newspaper El Nuevo Dia has reported. Garcia aides earlier estimated that 130,000 people would be covered by the end of the six-month period that ends March 31st.
Puerto Rico can constitutionally be treated unequally in Federal programs because it is a territory and because territories cannot have voting representation in the Federal government.