Politics

Obama Administration Calls For More Health Care Funding For Puerto Rico

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Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pushing Congress to increase Puerto Rico’s federal Medicaid funding as called for in President Barack Obama’s 2017 fiscal year budget proposal released last week.

Agency officials said the debt-stricken island’s Medicaid program is in need of reforms – calling for the cap on funding be lifted for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, the matching rate be gradually increased from 55 percent to 83 percent and the expansion of eligibility for the entitlement program to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

“We are committed to continuing our work to strengthen Puerto Rico’s health care system and improve health outcomes on the island using available administrative authorities,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement Thursday. “However, a true solution for the 3.5 million Americans living in Puerto Rico, including reforms to strengthen Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, such as raising the federal share of Medicaid funding, requires Congress to act.

The agency said the legislature needs to act soon to provide the territory with the same funding provided in the 50 states.

“The (Medicaid) cap is not in place in the rest of the country,” Katie Martin, counselor to the department’s secretary, told the Associated Press. “It’s time to end it in Puerto Rico.”

The commander in chief’s budget proposal would increase the island’s budget by approximately $30 billion over a nine-year period.

In addition to the Medicaid funding requested, the agency wants additional funds to combat the Zika virus.

“HHS has requested that Congress enact a temporary one-year increase in territories’ federal Medicaid share to provide an estimated $250 million in additional federal assistance to support health services for pregnant women at risk of infection or diagnosed with Zika virus and for children with micocephaly, and other health care costs,” it said. “This request does not make any changes to Puerto Rico’s underlying Medicaid program, and the additional funding will not be counted towards Puerto Rico’s current Medicaid allotment.”

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