Productive first trip for Frente por Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN – Members of Frente por Puerto Rico (Front for Puerto Rico) met with representatives from 40 offices of the U.S. House and Senate to raise awareness of the importance of including the island when assigning healthcare funds due to the $1.3 billion fiscal cliff it faces in 2018.
Hurricane Irma’s passage in the Caribbean did not deter the group, which made its first trip–without using public funds–between Sept. 5 and 6, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) in a written statement.
During these first rounds of lobbying, members of the front insisted on the importance of the $296 million allocation granted through the omnibus spending bill for the Puerto Rico Medicare program during the current fiscal year (2017-18), but informed the members of Congress that this amount is insufficient to cover the costs of the government’s health plan, which requires at least an additional $600 million by the end of the fiscal year.
“Our first request to members of Congress is to ask them to eliminate the federal funding cap set by Obamacare [Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act], as it constitutes an unfair and discriminatory treatment of American citizens in Puerto Rico,” wrote PRFAA Executive Director Carlos Mercader.
Members of the common front met with representatives of Sens. Thad Cochran, Cory Booker, Bob Casey, Marco Rubio, Bill Cassidy, Claire McCaskill, Kamala Harris, Jeff Lucas, Michael Crapo, Michael Bennet, Brian Schatz, John Isakson, John Cornyn, Orrin Hatch, Martin Heinrich and John Thune.
They also held meetings with Reps. Rob Bishop, Steve Scalise, Raúl Labrador, Adam Kinzinger, John Shimkus, Marsha Blackburn, Michael Doyle, Nydia Velázquez, Doris Matsui, Joyce Betty, José Serrano, Gus Bilirakis, Ben Lujan, Eliot Engel, Diane DeGette, John Shimkus, Leonard Lance, David Loebsack, Markwayne Mullin, Anna Eshoo, Sean Duffy, Billy Long and Fred Upton.
Mercader indicated that, due to the island’s territorial condition, Puerto Rico only receives $1.1 billion to $ 1.3 billion annually to pay for the government’s health plan. This means the funds Puerto Rico receives are limited to this amount and are not proportional, as is the case with the states, to the medical needs of the population.
Congress will soon vote on the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which could provide an immediate solution to finance the government’s health plan.
“We are requesting an immediate increase to the cap Puerto Rico receives in SCHIP to the roughly $1.6 billion requested by the federal executive [branch] in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2018,” stated the PRFAA official, who was accompanied in the meetings by George Laws-García, director of Government Affairs, and Josué Rivera, Diego Sánchez and Justin Higgins, public policy advisers in the agency.
Mercader added that, in the long run, “Congress needs to establish a new budget mechanism that will increase the cap permanently, using states with demographics similar to those of Puerto Rico as a base.”
The official said the island is developing a new healthcare model and was satisfied with the work of Frente por Puerto Rico, made up of more than 70 leaders from various political, social, religious and other sectors. The group will make its second and third trips to the U.S. capital Sept. 11-15 and Sept. 18-22.
Among participants of the front present in the meetings were the director of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym), Angie Ávila; ASES legal director Marla Hadad; the president of the Puerto Rico Surgeons and Physicians Association, Dr. Víctor Ramos; former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rosselló; the president of the Association of Primary Physicians, Dr. José J. Vargas de León; the president of the Puerto Rico College of Dental Surgeons, Dr. Gilberto Ríos; and the president of the Community Pharmacies Association, Vicmaris González.
All of them are part of the front’s healthcare subgroup.
The office of Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González was represented by her legislative director, Greg Tosi, and legislative assistant Estefanía Rodríguez.
In addition to the healthcare issue, the front will lobby in future trips for the inclusion of the island in federal tax reform and economic development.