In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has a crisis growing with its Medicaid healthcare program, which experts predict will run out of federal money in a matter of months, but the White House has left bailout funds for Congress to address.
The White House’s $44 billion supplemental disaster relief request Friday does not address the Puerto Rico Medicaid crisis. Earlier this month Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, of the New Progressive Party, had requested $1.6 billion for at least the next five years.
As a U.S. territory and not a state, Puerto Rico citizens do not pay federal income tax, but Washington does share the cost of Medicaid with its territories. With a crowded legislative calendar before year’s end, healthcare advocates are worried the Puerto Rico Medicaid bailout will not be addressed, and are hoping to include funding in the next spending bill in December.
“This could be the mother of all appropriations bill,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Vice President Edwin Park told The Hill. “And if the Senate is focused on taxes when they get back from Thanksgiving . . . are they going to be able to get to all of these? Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands could fall through the cracks.”
But Puerto Rico needs more to fix its Medicaid crisis that has loomed for years but has exhausted funding even faster than anticipated after Hurricane Maria.
“The total devastation brought on by these natural disasters has vastly exacerbated the situation and effectively brought the island’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse,” Rosello wrote in a letter to congressional leaders, according to the report.
Democrats have criticized the $44 billion of aid as not enough, especially since it does not extend to Medicaid.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called for the U.S. to “immediately provide additional funding and extend a one-hundred percent funding match for Medicaid in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands just as we did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”
The House passed a bill earlier this month to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program by $1 billion for each of the next two years to aid Puerto Rico’s Medicaid shortfalls, a move supported by Gov. Rosello because he feared Congress would be more focused on its mainland through year’s end.
The Senate, stuck on many bills passed by the House this year, has not moved on the measure.