HHS pushes Congress for Puerto Rico health funds

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The Obama administration is calling for Congress to act to increase healthcare funding for Puerto Rico through changes to the Medicaid program there. 

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday highlighted requests President Obama made in his budget last week to increase healthcare funding for the island territory, part of a broader administration push to assist Puerto Rico and address its debt crisis. 

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“A true solution for the 3.5 million Americans living in Puerto Rico, including reforms to strengthen Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, such as raising the federal share of Medicaid funding, requires Congress to act,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement Thursday. 

On the healthcare front, the administration is calling on Congress to lift a cap, which is not in place for the 50 states, on Medicaid funds provided to the island. 

The proposal also calls for increasing the share of Medicaid paid for by the federal government from 55 percent to 83 percent over time. Finally, the administration wants Congress to raise the eligibility threshold for Medicaid, which is lower in Puerto Rico than it is in the states, up to 100 percent of the poverty level. 

Puerto Rico’s healthcare problems are complicated by the Zika virus, which is expected to hit the territory far harder than the 50 states. 

The White House’s Zika funding request to Congress includes about $250 million in funding for health assistance for pregnant women and other costs. 

Puerto Rico has been helped by a one-time influx of federal health funding from the Affordable Care Act, but those funds are set to expire in 2019, which the administration warns could lead to 600,000 people losing healthcare coverage. 

In fact, officials said Puerto Rico appears to be burning through the funds at a faster rate, meaning they would run out before 2019. HHS said that highlights the need for Congress to provide the new health funding it is requesting.