Late last week, Senator Murray (D-WA) and Senator Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Eric Hargan to request information about the department’s hurricane response efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The letter addressed concerns about whether HHS is providing an adequate response, particularly in terms of food, water, and fuel shortages weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the islands.
The letter requested the Department to respond to the some pressing questions no later than November 9, 2017.
Among the issues singled out in the letter was how HHS is allocating resources to respond to the hurricane and how the federal government’s hiring freeze has affected the department’s response. The Senators also ask how HHS is addressing the health risks associated to the long-term power outages and specifically request information related to the use of alternative sources of electricity such as generators, particularly in the case of individuals who depend on medical devices that need power.
Access to healthcare services was another concern expressed in the Wyden/Murray letter. The Senators asked if HHS is working to ensure the hospitals, clinics, and community centers to have adequate resources and how HHS is working with health facilities to support efforts to reopen them and keep them stocked.
As members of Senate committees with jurisdiction over heatlhcare issues, Senators Wyden and Murray inquire in their letter about the operations of Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and singled out Medicare Part B enrollment as particularly problematic. In the states, Medicare beneficiaries are automatically enrolled in Part B upon qualifying for Medicare; in Puerto Rico, however, enrollees must apply in person. If beneficiaries do not immediately apply when they are eligible, sever financial penalties can occur. “The hurricane recovery efforts may be preventing newly-eligible beneficiaries in Puerto Rico from enrolling into Part B in a timely manner – resulting in lasting financial consequences,” the letter noted with concern.
The Wyden/Murray letter also asks Hargan how HHS is planning to address the diseases that are becoming more prevalent in Puerto Rico as conditions worsen and how HHS is moving forward with women’s health and safety, and domestic violence and sexual assault prevention in Puerto Rico.