(October 7, 2020 – New York) – Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, Representative to the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) Omar Marrero, Secretary of Health Lorenzo González Feliciano, and Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Jennifer M. Storipan, appeared today at a hearing requested by the Governor before the FOMB to insist on adding 200,000 people to the Plan Vital.
In July of this year, the Government of Puerto Rico made this request to the FOMB, but it was denied. That is why the governor requested a face-to-face meeting, after a successful meeting with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last Monday.
“The U.S. Congress approved P.L. 116-94 in 2019 to disburse up to $5.7 billion for Medicaid over two years. Due to the earthquakes, the pandemic and bureaucratic processes, unfortunately, it could not be fully disbursed. We want to do justice for the 200,000 lives in need of health care coverage, especially at this time of a pandemic. In order to do that, we need the FOMB’s approval to use the funds,” the Governor explained.
She stressed that, in addition to adding 200,000 people to Plan Vital, this would help do justice to doctors in Puerto Rico by increasing payment rates to match 70% of what a doctor serving Medicaid patients in the United States earns. This would help retain doctors so that they do not leave the island, and it would also address the salary increase for dentists, which has not been evaluated in 20 years.
“This item we are requesting does not require recurrent financing, since it would be temporary for the term of 12 months,” said Vázquez Garced.
For his part, Marrero indicated: “Today, our administration held an important meeting with the new president of the FOMB, David Skeel, with the purpose of identifying concrete solutions that will help us have an equal health care system with the increase of federal funds designated to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program. Given the challenges that our people have faced in recent years and the budgetary controls of the FOMB, a portion of the funds allocated for this and the next fiscal year are at risk. Our commitment is to work several initiatives together with FOMB to use these funds effectively and so that our people do not have to pay the consequences of FOMB’s actions. Our people deserve a dignified health program.
For his part, the Health Secretary indicated that as part of the discussion agenda before the FOMB, he explained the need to adjust the standards of the poverty level on the island so that the Medicaid program can offer services to more Puerto Ricans who need them.
“The population served by Medicaid is subject to Puerto Rico’s poverty level, which is at 43% of the federal level. Our request to the FOMB leadership is that this poverty level be adjusted to 85% of the federal level, which would allow us to provide nearly 200,000 more Puerto Ricans with access to the Vital health plan. We are confident that our recommendation will be accepted, for the health of the people of Puerto Rico,” said González Feliciano, who emphasized that the petition becomes relevant at a time when the island is facing the pandemic caused by COVID-19.
Storipan said, “We have seen the consequences that the pandemic has caused, not only in the United States but around the world. We must work to ensure that there is health coverage for everyone who needs it during this time of great public health concern. Today we shared with FOMB the different ways we can use Puerto Rico’s funds during this pandemic. Your approval of this application will help us save lives and provide adequate health care to the people of Puerto Rico.
15% of the population on the island does not have a medical plan at this critical time. This means that people infected with COVID-19 may not receive timely medical care and may have to wait too long, risking their lives.
“For me, this is a matter of life and death and so I wanted to have these conversations in a personal and direct way. I trust that they will approve this request, to guarantee that in the midst of this historic pandemic, all Puerto Ricans can have health care coverage that guarantees them access to medical services,” the Governor added.