[Editorial] No Time For Lechón
Gov.-elect Ricardo Rosselló will have no problem working off the excesses of Thanksgiving and the lechón and morcillas coming down the pike these Navidades because he is in perpetual motion trying to meet several important deadlines that are looming for his administration. Towering ominously on the horizon is a $2 billion “Maturity Wall” in February.
Meanwhile, he must play the anticipation game—a molasses-slow pour—as the fiscal control board must wait until Dec. 15 to receive amendments to a fiscal plan submitted by the Gov. Alejandro García Padilla administration before they take over the process and give the incoming governor a crack at the plan. Rosselló must act with urgency.
To that end, his administration has recruited teams of public employees inside government agencies to comb over financial data that can help to discern the fiscal state of affairs. He has until Jan. 31, which is the deadline for the control board to certify the final blueprint that Rosselló must follow as he attempts to govern in the times of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa). Reliable raw data is essential to persuade the control board to permit some of the mileposts he has outlined in his winding roadmap to recovery. Time to fasten seatbelts.
During an exclusive interview that took place between breakout sessions at the National Governors Association (NGA) meeting held in Washington, D.C., Rosselló told Caribbean Business that his push for transparency is essential to rally members on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and officials at the U.S. Treasury to help Puerto Rico bridge its short-term financing gap.
Rosselló took advantage of the governors’ forum to share challenges that Puerto Rico faces in the realm of Obamacare. The NGA made public its intention to play a very active role in lobbying to make changes to Obamacare.
While it seems unlikely that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be repealed altogether, there are many Republicans in the U.S. Congress who would like to see costs pared back considerably. That fiscally conservative philosophy runs contrary to the plight that Puerto Rico seeks to right—55% of the island’s money for healthcare are federal funds, compared with the poorest state of the union, Mississippi, which receives 84% federal funding for the coverage of its medically indigent population. Were this a level playing field, Puerto Rico would receive some $5 billion in additional funding for universal healthcare.
Under Obamacare, the administration of former Gov. Luis Fortuño opted to receive a block grant of some $5.7 billion to be spread across eight years. Come first quarter 2018, Puerto Rico will have blown through its ACA funding. Filling that gaping healthcare hole is a priority for the Rosselló administration.
A letter Congress sent this week to governors and health commissioners invited them to offer suggestions to help improve Obamacare, stating: “As Obamacare continues to saddle patients with less choice, higher costs and mountains of mandates, it is clear that major healthcare reforms must be made to strengthen and improve healthcare for all Americans.” Through an initiative titled, “A Better Way” for healthcare, the missive exhorts governors to provide written comments and suggestions on a number of issues that run the gamut from waivers to employer-sponsored coverage, by Jan. 6, 2017— Feliz Día de los Reyes.
Rosselló has an opportunity here to figure out how waivers can help deliver services under a revised Obamacare—one good step in the right direction would be to improve meaningful use of electronic health records, which is at a paltry 10% on the island. Puerto Rico’s medically indigent population deserves better.