Senate to Probe Alleged Misuse of Obamacare Funds
SAN JUAN — Sen. Ángel “Chayanne” Martínez Santiago said Wednesday that, as the recently designated chairman in the Senate’s Health Committee, he will carry out a thorough investigation regarding supposed fund misuse by the exiting administration through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
The New Progressive Party (NPP) senator lashed against Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s administration for supposedly spending most of Obamacare funds in only four years, and ensured the committee he will preside as of January will put the responsibility on those officials who “failed the people.”
“The health reform is largely financed by Obamacare funds. Section 2005 of the Affordable Healthcare for America Act assigned Puerto Rico $5.4 [billion] to ‘Mi Salud’ from July 2011 until September 30, 2019. We are in December 2016 and the vast majority of those funds were spent by this exiting administration,” said Martínez Santiago.
“This excessive waste of funds is unjustified. This committee will perform a thorough and responsible investigation about this affair and we will make referrals to pertinent authorities, both in Puerto Rico as well as to a federal level,” he added.
According to official data from Medicaid and Medicare Service Center, in addition to those $5.4 billion, the U.S. government assigned $925 million for Medicaid and Medicare. From these resources, which ascended to $6.4 billion in May 2015, only $3.4 billion remain.
Martínez Santiago reminded that federal input to ‘Mi Salud’ increased from 55% to 57.2% from Jan. 2014 until Dec. 31, 2015, which would have represented additional savings to the local government, thus extending those resources.
However, the senator said that as recently as late 2015, Dennis González, regional director of the Eastern U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), confirmed that García Padilla’s administration had spent disproportionately the Obamacare funds. He added it was imperative to demand Congress to declare Puerto Rico in health emergency.
“We had already addressed a letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan so he would give us the opportunity to discuss this issue in an emergency meeting, so he would declare Puerto Rico in a health emergency zone to look for the way to get federal funds,” explained Martínez Santiago.
“The grave problem Mi salud will have next year will be the lack of Advantage funds, which will be reduced by 11%. With this, thousands of people from the platinum programs -around 250,000 lives- could lose their medical plan and will be forced to emigrate toward reform because they aren’t guaranteed services via Medicare Advantage the moment they enter reform. This would represent the [local] government an annual blow of $400 to $500 million,” he said.
Alas, the senator was optimistic of the bill to be submitted by Resident Commissioner-elect Jenniffer González, to request additional funds through a mechanism known as Quick Fix, which he said would represent $3.5 billion for local health services while Congress works on new public policy regarding Obamacare.
However, when questioned what would be González’s course of action if her request were unsuccessful, Martínez Santiago said Plan B would be to look for recurrent funds from other means.
“I am developing measures that we will see in January of some areas that are being nourished by some funds that weren’t really given much importance. Funds are used for minuscule things from which we could take a percentage and not leave those organizations without funds, and they can be used for a special fund to manage Mi Salud,” he explained, although he didn’t specify which are those areas.