Updated 10:07 PM EST, Tue, Dec 01, 2020

Puerto Rico News: Citizens Bracing For Funding Cuts to Federal Health Care Plans

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Puerto Rico is readying to implement steep funding cuts to federal health care plans that cater to almost 70 percent of the island's 3.5 million population.

The Washington Post reported from the Associated Press that local officials are in discussion with the federal government about the proposed funding loss. Puerto Ricans depend on a health system funded by Medicaid and Medicare.

The cuts will affect the entire United States, but Puerto Rico is expected to feel them extremely because the "island already receives lower funding levels than the mainland, it has a poverty level higher than any U.S. state and it is already in the midst of an economic crisis and a nearly decade-long recession," the Washington Post reported.

Funding for the island's Medicare Advantage program, which serves about 560,000 of Puerto Ricans in need, will be slashed by 11 percent in January that will result to pricey copays and the loss of a number of benefits, the news outlet added. More Medicaid cuts are expected to take place over the next two years, which will affect about 1.6 million Puerto Ricans who count on the funds through Mi Salud, a local government health care plan.

Puerto Rico spends about $11 billion annually on health care, while the federal government provides almost $6 billion through Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Washington Post noted. At least half of these programs will be slashed by 2017. Medical care experts said that the cuts will push doctors and hospitals to provide services for a lesser amount, and more physicians will possibly leave the island to pursue better paying jobs in the U.S.

Earlier this month, thousands of island residents joined by a U.S. delegation of legislators, health care advocates, labor and religion leaders, and civil rights activists protested on the streets of Hato Rey to call attention to the declining health care system, NBC News wrote.

"The pending federal cuts to the island's health care system could represent its collapse, affecting millions of Puerto Ricans who could lose health services provided by the government," said Puerto Rico governor Alejandro García Padilla at the rally organized by the newly formed Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition, as reported by NBC News.

Puerto Rico's deteriorating health care situation is only part of its worsening fiscal condition, the news outlet noted. The island also has a $72 billion public debt and is not allowed to use Chapter 9, the bankruptcy protection code, to restructure the debt of its public utilities or municipalities. Several financial firms and groups who have bought Puerto Rican bonds do not agree to restructuring.

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