Puerto Ricans to Receive Medicare Prescription Drug Subsidies under Congressional Proposal

Reps. Donna Shalala (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) have introduced a proposal to help people in Puerto Rico cover the cost of prescription drugs under a program already available to their fellow U.S. citizens in the fifty states.

The legislation – entitled the “Medicare Low-Income Subsidy Expansion for Territories Act of 2019″ – would provide subsidies to residents of Puerto Rico and other territories to help them cover out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.

“No senior should ever have to forego vital, life-saving healthcare just because of where they live,” said Rep. Soto.  “At a time when Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories are still suffering from the long standing injustice of poverty, it’s more imperative than ever that we ensure our communities get the care they deserve.”

For generations, the residents of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories have been treated like second-class citizens,” explained Rep. Shalala. “Though these territories face many inequities, poverty – particularly among seniors – may be their most daunting challenge to overcome. This bill is an important step in not only helping alleviate poverty among seniors in Puerto Rico and other territories with aging populations, it is also a meaningful stride towards better and more equitable treatment for American citizens who have for too long been ignored.”

“Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories deserve to be treated fairly. I’m proud to support this bipartisan bill that ensures low-income seniors in Puerto Rico receive the same assistance as their fellow Americans in Florida and other states to help them better afford their prescription drugs,” said Murphy.

Rep. Gonzalez-Colon concurred, saying, “It is a step in correcting the discrimination in federal programs that our most vulnerable citizens suffer, for the only reason of wishing to remain in Puerto Rico.”

Medicare inequality

Medicare’s Low Income Subsidy (LIS) program assists low-income individuals by providing subsidies to fully or partially cover their out-of-pocket costs under the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Program subsidies help reduce or completely cover the out of pocket cost of Medicare Part D premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance, while also eliminating the prescription drug coverage gap and waiving the penalty for late enrollment into Medicare Part D.

By law, residents of U.S territories are currently barred from receiving LIS under Part D. In place of the low-income subsidy, territorial residents receive a fixed amount of funding to provide Medicaid covered prescription drugs for all low-income beneficiaries. This funding can be substantially less than the amount of federal financial support that low-income beneficiaries would receive if territorial residents were eligible for the LIS program.

Economic impact

Access to the LIS program was also included in the recommendations of the 2016 bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico.

Because Puerto Rico must pay a much higher proportion of healthcare costs than any of the States, healthcare costs have a direct negative effect on the economy of the territory.

 

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