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Senators eye Puerto Rico Medicaid funding for disaster bill

Senators eye Puerto Rico Medicaid funding for disaster bill

Senators are floating a temporary fix for Puerto Rico’s dwindling Medicaid funds as part of the chamber’s disaster aid package for the island.

According to sources familiar with the discussions, the legislation would include a provision to temporarily lift restrictions on how much money the federal government can spend on Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program.

Under the potential deal, the government would completely fund Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program for two years. The legislation could also include an infusion of $6 billion to help out the cash-strapped program.  

Puerto Rico has grappled with funding shortfalls even before Hurricane Maria decimated the territory’s health-care system. Before the storm, the territory had enough Medicaid money to last until April 2018.

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Now, experts predict that unless Congress acts, funding will be exhausted by March, if not earlier. If Puerto Rico’s federal Medicaid funding is exhausted, up to 900,000 people would likely be cut from Medicaid — more than half of total enrollment, according to estimates.

Puerto Rican Medicaid is subject to a hard federal cap of about $300 million a year. If the Puerto Rican government spends more than that amount, it must cover the rest of the cost on its own. Experts say the formula has contributed to the island’s debt crisis.  

None of the federal disaster relief money to date has been earmarked for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program.

The House passed an $81 billion disaster aid supplemental in late December, but the Senate did not, and is now working on its own measure.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said the newest version of the disaster aid legislation needs to provide more than just a temporary fix.

“We need to be clear: Anything less than a permanent fix to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid shortfall is inadequate,” Velázquez said in a statement provided to The Hill.

“If Republicans can toy with the idea of spending billions of dollars on a boondoggle like Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate GOP warns economy will tank if Dems win Gorbachev calls Trump's withdrawal from arms treaty 'a mistake' MORE’s border wall, certainly responsible Members of Congress can find the will and the funding to ensure 3.4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico have access to quality healthcare,” she added.