Senate Approval of $1 Billion in Medicaid Funding Expected: Puerto Rico resident Commissioner
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González Colón, announced Friday the inclusion in the continuing budget resolution of $1 billion in federal funds destined for the island’s Medicaid program to prevent thousands of people from being left without this coverage.
“The hurricanes’ impact on Puerto Rico has disrupted several of our needs, including funds requested to avoid the abyss in Medicaid [funding]. The [U.S.] House of Representatives diligently worked on our situation with two large funding allocations to prevent Puerto Rico’s thousands of American citizens from being left uncovered in this program,” González Colón said in a press release.
“The Senate is already evaluatiing the $1 billion allocation for Medicaid under SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program], but not waiting on what they can or cannot approve, I managed to include that allocation in the new continuing budget resolution that has to be approved before year-end,” the resident commissioner explained.
Faced with the question about when the SCHIP measure would pass, which was approved in the House and is pending in the Senate, González Colón spoke with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican from New Jersey, managing to have the $1 billion included to sustain Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, at least for the next two years, she said.
The resident commissioner explained that Frelinghuysen visited Puerto Rico Oct. 13, along with a delegation from Congress—including House Speaker Paul Ryan—who González Colón invited to the island to witness firsthand the damage from the hurricanes and the needs they created.
Like Frelinghuysen, Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and Michael Burgess (R-Texas), chairman of the Health Subcommittee, visited Puerto Rico after Hurricane María and were able to speak to representatives from the health sector who expressed concerns about the inequality of federal funding for Puerto Rico.
The congressmen, who had already worked with the resident commissioner to insert the additional Medicaid funds in the SCHIP measure, expressed their solidarity with Puerto Rico and committed to work for the island’s well-being.
“When I asked my colleague Frelinghuysen to help Puerto Rico with this important allocation of funds, he did not hesitate. The fact he visited our island in times of great need made him and the other congressmen [more] empathetic about what was happening on the island, and emphasized the importance of their visits to let Congress know in advance about these causes for Puerto Rico,” González Colón explained.
On May 1, González Colón announced a $295.9 million agreement for the commonwealth’s Mi Salud health program after Ryan sent her letter extolling her efforts during negotiations to approve the allocation package for fiscal year 2017.
At that time, in conversations with Ryan, they identified the SCHIP program as the vehicle to acquire the remaining funds for Puerto Rico’s Mi Salud program, from which nearly 640,000 people benefit. In October, the resident commissioner achieved that the House Energy & Commerce Committee allocate $1 billion.
Although the resident commissioner anticipates the measure will be approved by the Senate, she indicated she has continued to look for alternatives to secure funds that Congress was evaluating today in a continuing resolution that must be approved before the end of the year.
González Colón also indicated the $1 billion will be divided into $880 million directly assigned and available until 2019, plus $120 million that will be released once the island’s fiscal oversight board certifies the government of Puerto Rico has complied with certain efficiency measures and fraud controls described in the law.
The legislation also requires the opening of Family-to-Family Health Information Centers (F2F HICs)–nonprofit, family-staffed organizations that provide resources and training to families of children with special health care needs–on the island. The centers would be funded by the federal government.