U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Price told the Senate Finance Committee yesterday that the Federal government would have to find additional money for healthcare for low-income individuals in Puerto Rico.
“We, absolutely, have to find the resources to make sure they have the health care they need . . . They are American citizens and we have to take that responsibility seriously,” the U.S. House of Representative Member from Georgia testified during a hearing on his nomination in response to a question from Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).
The issue concerns the additional money that Puerto Rico and the four much less populated U.S. territories were given for healthcare for low and middle income individuals in the 2010 healthcare reform known as ‘Obamacare,’ with all eligible to be used for the Medicaid program for low-income individuals. The grants were to last variously through September 30 and December 31, 2019 with the amount for Puerto Rico totaling $6.412 billion. The equivalent funding for the States and the District of Colombia was unlimited as to amount and duration.
At the rate of spending established by Puerto Rico’s immediate past administration headed by Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla (PPD) and approved by the Obama Administration, the funding will be used up by later this year. That would reduce the funds available from the current level of roughly $1.68 billion a year to about $360 million annually, adjusted for inflation, the amount that the territory receives for Medicaid under pre-Obamacare, ongoing law. If nothing is done, more than 470,000 Puerto Ricans would lose Medicaid coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Because of this, the last Congress’ bipartisan, bicameral Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, on which Nelson served, in December recommended that this Congress act early this year to provide Puerto Rico and other territories with “equitable and sustainable” funding to replace the Obamacare grants.
The morning after being sworn into office, new Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon announced legislation to continue the current level of funding based upon the Task Force recommendation.