Democratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories


Several Democratic senators running for the White House in 2020 introduced legislation Tuesday that would boost federal funding for Medicaid and Medicare in U.S. territories.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) all cosponsored The Territories Health Equity Act of 2019. They were joined by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Thirty-eight Democratic representatives introduced companion legislation in the House.

{mosads}The bill’s goal is to equalize the funding for federal health care programs in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands with those in U.S. states.

The legislation would eliminate the cap on annual federal Medicaid funding and increase the federal matching rate for the territories’ Medicaid expenditures. It would also increase funding for the territories to provide prescription drug coverage to low-income seniors and make available to the territories’ residents the same health care coverage that members of Congress can receive.

The senators said the legislation is necessary as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands still grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which led to a slew of health issues on the islands and impeded access to hospitals. Temporary Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands expires in September.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

“Families in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other territories deserve access to the same federal health care programs as families throughout the rest of the United States—no exceptions,” added Warren. “We are introducing the Territories Health Equity Act to end discriminatory double standards in the way Medicare and Medicaid are administered in the U.S. territories.”

The relationships between Washington and U.S. territories have been underlined after a feud between President Trump and the government in San Juan nosedived, leading the White House to threaten to hold up a much-needed disaster bill over the level of funds allocated to Puerto Rico.

Tags Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Donald Trump Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Kirsten Gillibrand

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