The Puerto Rico Report has uncovered that the administration of Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla tried to exempt Puerto Rico from the Affordable Care Act health insurance guarantee privisions, a key part of the signature law of the Obama administration, arguing that the same provisions of the states did not apply in the territory. The request was promptly rejected by the federal government, who indicated that the territory did have the authority to require health insurance, and in fact had asked to be included in the law.
From the article:
In May, Garcia’s Commissioner of Insurance, Angela Weyne, led a stealth territorial request to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to waive the requirement in the islands.
The argument was that, unlike in the States, in the territories, Obamacare does not require employers to offer health insurance and individuals to purchase it. In the States, the required new policies for previously uninsured individuals will pay for the coverage of those who need more health care than other people.
But the Garcia Administration’s argument also surprisingly ignored that the territorial government can require health insurance coverage by employers and individuals. This is surprising in light of Garcia saying as recently as yesterday that Puerto Rico should exercise as much autonomy as it can with its political status (territory, sometimes misleadingly called “commonwealth.”)
A Federal health official politely slapped down the Garcia Administration’s request the week before last. He pointed out the territory’s authority to impose the insurance requirements. He also noted that Fortuno and Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi, who now heads the statehood party, sought to ensure that the universal health insurance and other consumer protections of the 2010 law would apply to Puerto Ricans.
The moves by the territorial administration follow their mindset and public policy that the current territorial status of Puerto Rico is actually a unique form of relationship between the local government, and the United States, despite the fact that the US Government in every one of its branches, treats and considers Puerto Rico as one of its territories, and that Congress retains supreme power over the islands.
Al crear su constitución, Puerto Rico dejó de ser un mero territorio de los EEUU (Cordova & Simonpietri Ins. Agency Inc. v. Chase
— Che Julio (@chejulio) July 26, 2013
Citing the Cordova & Simonpietri Ins. Agency Inc. v. Chase case in the First District, some supporters of the current status argue courts have held the status of Puerto Rico to be different than that of a territory. This argument however ignores that in all court rulings that have held Puerto Rico to receive treatment different than that of a territory, it has been based solely on Congress’ intent, and authority to treat Puerto Rico differently if it so desires, consistent with its power over Puerto Rico as a jurisdiction that falls under the territorial clause of the US Constitution.
The report on the stealth moves of the local government reveals that the federal government warns that if the territorial government refuses to implement the ACA, then the US Department of Health and Human Services would do so, representing a setback to the Popular Democratic Party’s efforts and rhetoric about Puerto Rico being in a bilateral compact with the US. For all purposes, the federal government has final say, and will act if challenged.