Monday, October 26, 2020

Governor to call extraordinary session ‘to end the abuse of health plans’

By on June 19, 2020

Gov. Wanda Vázquez during her 2021 Status and Budget Address (Courtesy)

SAN JUAN — Without going into specific details about how she will transform the health system to eliminate the power of insurance companies over treatment decisions and access to patient services, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced used her State of Puerto Rico and Budget Address to announce that she will convene the legislature for an extraordinary session to deal with that matter.

“There is no reason for our fathers, mothers, grandparents and grandmothers, that our dear old people have to beg an insurance company to authorize their medications and clinical treatments,” said the governor in her only state of the state and budget speech so far.

“We will end the abuse of insurers; this is what the people have asked for and that is what I am going to do,” she sentenced, announcing that she was requesting “the legislative presidents to create a joint commission to address this matter immediately and I will be convening an extraordinary session to address this and other matters.”

Vázquez Garced began her speech at the Center for Performing Arts in Santurce stating: “My hands are clean. The government’s only loyalty has to be to you.”

“I have clean hands to achieve the change you want and deserve,” she said, positioning herself as the gubernatorial candidate of the New Progressive Party (NPP) under which she is campaigning against former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi to stay in office. All NPP senators and the majority of the representatives attended her address, as did others from the public despite social distancing restrictions imposed to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Minorities were not present.

The governor announced a budget of around $10.2 billion for fiscal year 2021.

Regarding the budget presented by the executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), Natalie Jaresko, the governor replied to her statements.

“Collaborating does not mean giving everything up… At the beginning of the year, we began discussions with the Fiscal Oversight Board to establish a new Fiscal Plan that would better meet the needs and contemplate the new reality of our people. I have always defended the people, Justice is my goal, and that is why we have sued the Board… because its decisions not only impact the administration, but also the economic future of everyone. With unknown intentions, the Board tried to advance yesterday details of the budget that it would present today. Know that, despite this, I reaffirm that I will defend the benefits of public employees that were not budgeted for or approved by them,” Vázquez Garced said.

The following is a breakdown of the governor’s announcements.

“In this budget, we give priority to guaranteeing the payment of pensions. I want you to know that we agree with the intention of the House bill from Representative Lourdes Ramos that creates the Law for a Worthy Retirement, reaffirming our public policy in favor of pensions for retirees from public service of Puerto Rico,” Vázquez Garced said.

The budget includes $6.29 billion for government operations, a $145 million reduction compared with the previous budget.

Healthcare – $314 million increase

  • $110 million for improvements to hospitals across Puerto Rico
  • $20 million for investment in technology for public hospitals
  • $145 million for investment in the Medicaid System
  • $4 million for the Cardiovascular Center of Puerto Rico
  • $10 million for opioid treatment
  • $4.6 million for Medicare’s historic (Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration) ASSMCA accreditation
  • $20 million for a scholarship fund for medical students

Education – Additional $176 million

  • $52 million for hiring psychologists for the Special Education Program
  • $40 million for transportation, food and supplies for students
  • $3 million for the purchase of books
  • $15 million to recruit new school nurses
  • $43 million for the Scholarship Fund of the University of Puerto Rico
  • $23 million to grant a salary increase to school principals and teachers

Public Safety – additional $285 million

  • $2.4 million for the purchase of new ambulances
  • $1 million to recruit more paramedics
  • $4 million to purchase fire trucks
  • $2.8 million intended to recruit more firefighters
  • $2.6 million to increase firefighter salaries
  • $122 million for payment of overtime from previous years
  • $37 million to continue paying Social Security,
  • $27 million for vehicle fleet and more technology
  • $69 million to give police officers a raise.

Others

  • $34.1 million for the Family Department to provide safe housing to more than 4,000 adults displaced by natural disasters.
  • $29 million for the Courts Administration Office
  • $7 million for ASSMCA
  • $6.1 million for the Caño Martín Peña ENLACE Project Corporation
  • $2.5 million for the Montessori Schools Program

What the fiscal oversight board hasn’t approved

  • Uniform Compensation Plan worked on since September as part of the Single-Employer Law.
  • WIPR – “I will stand firm in defense of the WIPR, but the board demands its privatization.” “Our commitment is to do it in an orderly and responsible manner, guaranteeing that its employees, the artists, and the human talent that for years have given their lives are protected, maintaining a cultural and historical trajectory.” She called for legislation that affords WIPR more powers and flexibility to generate its own revenue, keeping it as a government asset.
  • Christmas Bonus – “I reiterate that I will not change my position. I’m letting you know that we will identify the savings so that public workers receive their Christmas bonus. Let it be clear, there will be a Christmas bonus!”

Promises

  • June 30: $2,000 aid for Natural Resources officials and Consumer Affairs Department inspectors
  • We will be granting the first 400 permanencies to special education assistants, known as T1.
  • In July, the delivery of computers with internet access to each student and teacher in the public system will begin.
  • A strategic digital training and literacy plan will be launched “so that all citizens enjoy, with equal opportunities, the benefits of the digitization process.”
  • $1,000 to purchase technology equipment to high school seniors who enrolled in a post-secondary education institution.
  • Expansion of the Plan Vital government health insurance coverage, which will include 200,000 people who do not have a health plan.

University of Puerto Rico

“To protect our university, I have requested that the increase in tuition and fees that was scheduled for this new academic year be canceled and that the budget reductions be suspended for the coming years,” the governor said.

  • A $55 million allocation to mitigate the impact of COVID-19
  • 20 million to implement the Classification and Compensation Plan for non-teaching staff, among other measures.
  • Include in next year’s budget a $160 million contribution for the Retirement System, including the next five years.

Digitization

  • FCC approved an allocation of $760 million to optimize and expand broadband infrastructure

Health plans

  • “Our government has to end the waste of funds that go to the administrative expenses of third parties and that do not benefit our people at all.”
  • “We want a new public policy that also includes mental health services, which other administrations have left on the sidelines.”
  • She asked the legislative presidents to create a joint commission to address the changes in public policy and anticipated that she would call an extraordinary session to address that and other matters.
  • In addition, she will commission a study to determine the appropriate mechanism to allocate $200 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act to provide coverage to Puerto Ricans who are not eligible for Plan Vital and who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.
  • She promised to strengthen the law and order forces, allocating more resources for criminal investigations and the protection and security of the police.
  • “We are working on identifying funds to reinstate the $100 monthly contribution for health insurance,” which was phased out in 2013.
  • $350 million for a new home-buyer assistance program. The program will allow a $40,000 grant to be awarded to home buyers, prioritizing police, nurses, firefighters and emergency management personnel.

Economic development

  • She stated that “there are favorable conditions to retake the seat that we had occupied in the pharmaceutical industry years ago.”
  • Announced that the annual Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association convention will be held in Puerto Rico in October.
  • Announced that there are 36 new tourism projects in process, with an investment of more than $1 billion. These new projects range from small bed & breakfasts to large hotels to be located in Luquillo, Naguabo, Isabela and Carolina.
  • In construction, several projects are underway, such as more than 900 housing units, with a $279 million investment.
  • Highlighted the investment of about $15 billion in federal funds and private investment to strengthen the electricity grid.
  • She said the plan to increase power generation from renewable sources was completely on hold when she took power in August. “Today we already have seven projects in operation, representing a savings of 10%, or $200 million during the term of their contracts.”
  • Announced the ReGrow program that will grant up to $150,000 per farmer and may be applied for starting the second week of August.
  • Announced that she will sign an executive order for all government auctions to be public and broadcast live online.

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