Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Gonzalez looks to Oversight Board to help stop Medicaid crisis
On March 13, 2017 the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Jenniffer Gonzalez, wrote a letter to Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Oversight and Management Board asking them to fulfill its prime initiative: to help the territory balance its budget and advise the President and the Congress of the United States on the unfolding crisis and how best to handle it.
Puerto Rico is in a financial crisis previously reported on by Pasquines. Currently $70 billion in debt, this is one of a few pleas territory officials have made to Congress and our nation’s President in hopes that they would be able to sway legislators to produce aid in light of the crisis. The debt has triggered a Medicaid crisis, which has made replacing the current Medicaid program vital to the continued coverage of over 470,000 of its most vulnerable citizens. The current program is due to run out in a matter of months.
In her letter, Gonzalez places emphasis on the disadvantages of not attending to the debt. Namely it would lead to a loss of $1.3 billion in federal Medicaid contributions. This would be an 80% cut in federal funding representing 44% of the territory’s Medicaid contributions.
The resident commissioner goes on to explain how not receiving equal Medicaid funding in Puerto Rico would have detrimental effects on the United States. First being that the needs for uninsured health care would rise. Causing the burden of this cost to fall on the Puerto Rican government., making it that much more difficult to reach budget goals and pay back the debt.
Secondly this would cause a rise in the population flight from the territory. Citizens from Puerto Rico enjoy the same rights and freedoms as any American citizen, and those fleeing the territory in droves would all posses the same full access to Medicaid stateside. This decrease in population would further deflate an already depressed Puerto Rican economy, again making it extremely difficult to create a balanced budget.
On advice from a group of financial experts, the US government created the Oversight Board instead of bailing out the territory immediately. The US government has been covertly saying no to more aid for Puerto Rico as subtly as it can since they were made aware of the crisis. But the hint has not been taken; to say that the territory is on its own is a tricky concept. Gonzalez nodded at the impediments of its status as a territory in her letter saying, “[a]dditionally, Puerto Rico does not have the two Senators, five voting members of the House of Representatives, and seven Electoral Votes to ensure that its needs are met – although the problem would not exist in the first place if it did. The islands would be treated equally with the States in Medicaid and all other Federal programs. In Medicaid alone, this would provide several times as much in Federal assistance.” This would help create the possibility of Puerto Rico honestly paying back its current loans.
For now, the territory remains at a distinct disadvantage because without the aid needed, they cannot hope to make true improvements to their economy or healthcare crisis.