Sen. Sanders, co-sponsors introduce legislation to put territories on par with states for Medicaid
Backed by presidential hopefuls, seeks health coverage ‘as comprehensive’ as lawmakers’
SAN JUAN — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced the Territories Health Equity Act of 2019 (S. 1773), a companion bill to Rep. Stacey Plaskett’s (D-V.I.) in the House, to address the disparity in Medicaid and Medicare funding for the U.S. territories.
The lawmakers say the bill would correct “long-standing inequities” in federal healthcare funding and give “the nearly four million Americans living in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands access to the health care they need,” according to a news release by Sanders, who introduced the bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Rep. Plaskett introduced the companion bill (H.R.1354) together with 37 cosponsors in the House. The Senate version of the bill is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, Latinos for Healthcare Equity, BoricuActivate, Boricuas Unidos en la Diaspora (BUDPR), and the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union.
The legislation could see passage in the lower chamber, whose Democratic majority has shown an inclination to address the funding disparity, while the fate of the Senate’s version is up to its Republican majority, despite backing by presidential hopefuls Sanders, Gillibrand, Harris, Booker and Warren.
“The vast majority of residents in Puerto Rico—a full 85 percent—report they are worried they will be unable to access health care if they need it. Nearly one in four people living in Puerto Rico report they or a family member have developed a new or worsened health condition as a result of Hurricane Maria, and one in three report they or someone in their home have had trouble accessing medical care,” the release reads. “Similarly, in the face of an increased demand for services, the U.S. Virgin Islands has been unable to spend the Medicaid dollars required to secure federal matching funds.”
Temporary Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands expires in September. This funding cliff “could be disastrous,” the release says, for the more than 1.5 million people covered by the program.
“In Puerto Rico alone, an estimated 900,000 people could lose coverage,” the lawmakers stress.
The legislation would provide the territories with the “same need-based, open-ended Medicaid funding that is currently available to the fifty states and the District of Columbia by eliminating the arbitrary cap on annual federal Medicaid funding and increasing the federal matching rate for the territories’ Medicaid expenditures,” the release explains.
The bill would also address Medicare “disparities by updating hospital reimbursements and increasing funding for the territories to provide prescription drug coverage to low-income seniors. Above all, the bill would ensure that Americans living in the territories are eligible for health coverage that is as comprehensive as the coverage available to Members of Congress,” the minority lawmakers said.
“It is unconscionable that in the wealthiest nation in the world we have allowed our fellow citizens to suffer for so long. The full resources of the United States must be brought to bear on this crisis, for as long as is necessary,” Sanders said. “We must go forward to ensure a strong health care system in all the territories and address inequities in federal law that have allowed the territories to fall behind in almost every measurable social and economic criteria.”)