OPINION

Opinion: Cuts to Puerto Rico's health care system are unfair and can prove fatal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  A nurse tends to recovering patients on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital on March 16, 2010 in Birmingham, England.  As the UK gears up for one of the most hotly contested general elections in recent history it is expected that that the economy, immigration, industry, the NHS and education are likely to form the basis of many of the debates.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: A nurse tends to recovering patients on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital on March 16, 2010 in Birmingham, England. As the UK gears up for one of the most hotly contested general elections in recent history it is expected that that the economy, immigration, industry, the NHS and education are likely to form the basis of many of the debates. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)  (2010 Getty Images)

Puerto Rico’s health care system has been consistently underfunded by the federal government. This is an injustice given that Puerto Ricans pay the same Medicare and Social Security taxes as other Americans, yet the island receives less than half the funding of mainland states.

Sixty percent of the island’s population – over 2 million patients – receives medical care through Medicare, Medicare Advantage or Medicaid. This means that medical care for millions of U.S. citizens is in jeopardy and hospitals and providers will be unable to provide services without raising costs or cutting back on benefits.  

Puerto Ricans are not asking for special treatment, we are asking to be treated fairly and equally as American citizens who contribute to our great nation and pay the same Medicare taxes.

- Dennis Rivera

And because the health care industry represents 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s economy, its collapse would have a catastrophic effect on Puerto Rico’s already fragile economy.

The Obama administration announced last week its decision to proceed with a devastating 11 percent cut for Puerto Rico’s Medicare Advantage plans. The island’s health care system was already teetering and these further cuts could push it over the edge.

In 2008, when he was campaigning for president, Obama acknowledged that health care funding for Puerto Rico is “insufficient” and promised that he would “work closely with the government of Puerto Rico and Congress to strengthen the federal government’s investment in the health of the people of Puerto Rico.”

President Obama and his administration still have time to act on their promise to strengthen the health of Puerto Ricans – the 3.5 million of them living on the island and the 4 million living in the continental U.S. We can work together to achieve a solution.

Puerto Ricans are not asking for special treatment, we are asking to be treated fairly and equally as American citizens who contribute to our great nation and pay the same Medicare taxes.

President Obama and his administration need to act now to fix this outrageous disparity in funding for Puerto Rico’s health care system. We need to safeguard care for the 3.5 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico, before it’s too late.

Dennis Rivera is a nationally recognized health care leader and serves as the chairman of the Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition.

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