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Puerto Rico Health Crisis: US Health Department to Fund Up to $50 Million in Medicare Support

First Posted: Apr 08, 2016 04:01 PM EDT
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Photo : Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Likely in response to Puerto Rico's deteriorating health care, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will increase Medicare rates for the commonwealth by slightly more than one percent.

A Modest Increase Worth Tens of Millions of Dollars

The HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an increase of 1.25 percent for 2017s Medicare Advantage (MA) rates for Puerto Ricans. The aforementioned percentage rate would equate approximately between $40 million and $50 million in additional funding for more than 570,000 Medicare recipients.

But even with the 1.25 percent increase, Puerto Rico still has considerably low federal funding for the commonwealth's Medicare Advantage compared to the mainland U.S. states.

"Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell's intervention was critically important in obtaining this rate increase and we thank her for these much needed resources," said Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition (PRHCC) President Dennis Rivera. "Senator Schumer, Congresswoman Pelosi and Resident Commissioner Pierluisi's advocacy were also key in our efforts to bring parity to Puerto Rico's federal healthcare programs."

According to Puerto Rico Hospital Association President Jaime Pla said the additional funding is a "welcome change" following the seven percent cuts that were in consideration by CMS and comes as the island's hospitals have been forced to make cuts in operations.

"While this is a victory, we still need to work with HHS and CMS to review the process that determines how the MA rates are calculated in the first place," said Jim O'Drobinak, president of the Medicaid and Medicare Advantage Product Association, in a statement. "There is almost no utilization of fee for service on the island, so tying MA rates to them no longer makes any sense and severely disadvantages our ability to fund care for the patients we insure."

Puerto Rico's Health Crisis and Zika's Rise

According to Puerto Rico Education Secretary Rafael Roman Melendez, the commonwealth's $72 debt crisis has had an impact on children's health and education. In a letter written to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., last month, the education secretary warned about the Zika virus' spread across the island. Melendez said more than 249 reported cases of the Zika virus have been made including over 24 pregnant women. He noted mosquitos are using septic tanks as breeding grounds and unfortunately many schools use septic tanks for wastewater services.

But Zika isn't the only health dilemma. Influenza is also on the rise. Melendez wrote that the Puerto Rico Department of Health has reported an average of 1,300 cases of influenza every week, but the island is unable to maintain germ-free environments due to insufficient funds.

As Latin Post reported, the Puerto Rico Senate passed the "Puerto Rico Emergency Moratorium and Financial Rehabilitation Act" on April 5. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla commended the Puerto Rican Senate stating the bill "provides us with the tools to address the highest priority of needs -- providing essential services to our people -- without fear of retribution. This legislation also helps the Government Development Bank address its difficult situation in an orderly manner."

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the House Committee on Natural Resources scheduled a hearing on April 13 to address a draft bill addressing the island's restructuring bill.


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