Obama officials call to boost healthcare funds to Puerto Rico

The Obama administration is pushing Congress to reform Puerto Rico’s healthcare programs to help fight the Zika virus and remove limits on health funding that officials call harmful. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewHogan urges Mnuchin to reconsider delay of Harriet Tubman bill Mnuchin says new Harriet Tubman bill delayed until 2028 Overnight Finance: US reaches deal with ZTE | Lawmakers look to block it | Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 | Mexico files WTO complaint MORE wrote to Congress on Friday calling for the cap on Puerto Rico’s Medicaid funding to be lifted and for the federal contribution to the program to be raised so it is more in line with the assistance given to the 50 states. 

The secretaries warn that the current limits on healthcare programs in Puerto Rico are hindering the response to the Zika virus, which is hitting the island particularly hard. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "estimates that a quarter of Puerto Rico’s population may be infected with Zika by the end of the year,” Burwell and Lew write. “Despite this imminent threat, financial constraints have complicated the timely and comprehensive response required.”'

The virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact, has been shown to cause severe birth defects. The U.S.'s tropical territories have been hit hardest by the disease since it began spreading earlier this year.

More than 1.6 million people in Puerto Rico, almost half the population, are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the letter states. 

Adding to the worries, one-time healthcare funding through ObamaCare could expire as soon as December 2017, which Burwell and Lew say could mean 900,000 people in Puerto Rico losing coverage. 

The secretaries addressed the letter to a congressional task force set up by the rescue law enacted this summer, which is seeking to strengthen Puerto Rico’s economy. 

“Given the current treatment of Puerto Rico under federal law, the 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico do not have access to healthcare services considered standard in the rest of the nation,” Burwell and Lew write.