Puerto Rico Leaders Urge Congress to Act on Growing Health, Economic Crises
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) have been working this week to address the financial and health care challenges affecting Puerto Rico.
Most people are aware of the financial issues afflicting the U.S. commonwealth, but there are also growing health concerns. On Tuesday, the CHC and the Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition (PRHCC) gathered at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to address the health problems ranging from hospital closures, extreme wait times for patients, doctors exiting the island for mainland U.S. and lack of funds.
According to PRHCC President Dennis Rivera, Tuesday's briefing was to make another case to Washington for urgent action for the island's 3.5 million population, who are also U.S. citizens.
"Without Congressional action, billions will continue to be cut from the Island's healthcare system," said Rivera in a statement. "These cuts would escalate an already-fragile situation into a profound humanitarian crisis. Washington must give Puerto Rico the tools it needs to protect its people."
Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the non-voting congressman for Puerto Rico, said the commonwealth's status as a "U.S. territory" prohibits the island from receiving similar to the same benefits as U.S. states, specifically Medicaid, Medicare and the health insurance exchanges as provided through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The congressman noted that despite Puerto Ricans not receiving the same medical benefits, they still pay the same Medicare and Social Security taxes as mainland citizens.
"These inequalities have severely undermined quality of life in Puerto Rico and contributed to mass migration to the states," Pierluisi said. "In December 2015, two of my bills to provide equitable treatment to Puerto Rico hospitals under Medicare became law. Nevertheless, many health-related disparities remain. This briefing will serve to educate Members of Congress and their staffs about these inequalities, with the goal of spurring Congressional action."
Pierluisi also addressed the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs of the House Natural Resources for Puerto Rico's financial stability and economic growth. Based on his prepared opening statement, a lack of congressional legislation addressing the "already-grave situation" in Puerto Rico will make matters worse. He issued his support for an independent board to approve the Puerto Rican government's long-term financial plan and annual budgets, debt restructuring and improved treatment for the island as regular U.S. states in federal spending and tax credit programs.
"Before you try to come up with all sorts of clever and convoluted ways to respond to the crisis in Puerto Rico, you should simply extend to the territory those federal programs and policies that have already proven effective in the states that you represent. This is not the time to experiment; equality is the best policy," said Pierluisi.
As Latin Post reported, Puerto Rico's debt has climbed to over $70 billion. Puerto Rico Gov. Alejando Garcia Padilla previously acknowledged that the island's request for congressional help is not a bailout but simply wants the "tools" to help restructure.
For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Politics Editor Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: email@example.com.
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