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PUERTO RICO’S DETERIORATING FISCAL CRISIS TRANSLATES TO DROP IN QUALITY OF CARE AND ACCESS TO SERVICES FOR MILLIONS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS

Feb 2, 2016
Press Release
Congressional action is needed to fight off devastating healthcare cuts

Washington, D.C. – Today the Puerto Rico Health Crisis Coalition (PRHCC), members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), and local healthcare leaders held a briefing on the healthcare challenges facing Puerto Rico. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and New York Congressman Jose Serrano gave brief remarks in support of solutions to the Island’s healthcare inequities.

Puerto Rico’s deteriorating fiscal situation has taken a toll on delivery of care to the Island’s neediest patients with a growing doctor shortage and life-threatening wait times for specialty services. Several hospitals are preparing for closure due to lack of funds and delayed payments for providers. Today’s briefing urged members of Congress to take action to address the growing healthcare crisis and allow Puerto Ricans to receive the care they desperately need.

“Today’s briefing made the case for urgent action by Washington to protect the healthcare of over 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico,” said Dennis Rivera, president of the Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition. “Without Congressional action, billions will continue to be cut from the Island’s healthcare system. These cuts would escalate an already-fragile situation into a profound humanitarian crisis. Washington must give Puerto Rico the tools it needs to protect its people.”

"Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, Congress can – and does – treat it worse than the states under federal health programs, namely Medicaid, traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and the health insurance exchanges established in the Affordable Care Act. These inequalities have severely undermined quality of life in Puerto Rico and contributed to mass migration to the states.  In December 2015, two of my bills to provide equitable treatment to Puerto Rico hospitals under Medicare became law. Nevertheless, many health-related disparities remain. This briefing will serve to educate Members of Congress and their staffs about these inequalities, with the goal of spurring Congressional action," said Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's sole representative in Congress. 

The 3.5 American citizens living in Puerto Rico currently pay the same Medicare and Social Security taxes as citizens on the mainland, but receive only half the rate of federal healthcare funding. As the Island’s fiscal problems continue, Puerto Rico’s healthcare industry continues to face devastating cuts. Currently, the healthcare industry represents 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product and employs 100,000 people. Additional cuts may put thousands out of work and force even more to wait longer to see a doctor or receive proper care.

“If these cuts continue, our healthcare system will be thrown into a full-blown crisis. This could provoke mass migration of Puerto Rican doctors to the mainland and prevent patients from getting the care they need,” said Dr. Jose Joaquin Vargas, President of the IPA Association of Puerto Rico. “Congress must act now before this healthcare crisis spreads and affects even more of Puerto Rico’s economy.”

"Puerto Rico's healthcare system is at a critical moment.  Currently, we are facing a humanitarian crisis due to the inequality in the allocation of Medicaid and Medicare Funds. Our analysis shows that this crisis will become a catastrophe if the federal government doesn't intervene on a timely matter to fix the disparity,” said Ricardo A. Rivera Cardona, Executive Director of the Health Insurance Administration. “Not only we are at risk to have close to a million people become uninsured, but both states and the federal government face drastic cost increases as the emigration of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. grows exponentially. This is why we need the support of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as well as all Congress, in taking legislative action immediately."

"Puerto Rico's economy is hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Jose Laborde, professor of economics at the University of Puerto Rico. “If the healthcare sector suffers another blow it will be ‘Game Over’!"

“The Medicare Advantage program in Puerto Rico has seen over $1 billion in cuts over the past few years and is now paid almost 40 percent less than plans in the United States, despite covering some of the poorest and sickest Medicare beneficiaries,” said MMM President Orlando Gonzalez. “I hope this Congressional briefing finally provides lawmakers the information they need to undo these devastating cuts and fix the inequitable treatment of Puerto Rico’s healthcare system.”

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