Trump Administration Slashes Funding For Puerto Rico’s Medicare Funding When They Need It Most
The long-standing feud between President Trump and Puerto Rico has been well-documented. Whether it’s been Trump calling the island “one of the most corrupt places on Earth” or labeling it’s politicians as “incompetent” altogether, this past weekend is just the latest chapter in this dispute.
President Trump reportedly slashed billions of dollars worth of Medicaid funding that the federal government was preparing to allocate to the U.S. territory. According to Politico, Trump personally intervened with a new $1.4 trillion spending package, which was unveiled by lawmakers this week, that would have given Puerto Rico $12 billion over four years. Instead, the new plan will only allocate up to $5.7 billion in Medicaid funds for the island over the span of two years.
The change in allocated money is a reversal from the originally agreed-upon sum that both Republican and Democratic leaders on two key congressional committees, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. This came after months of negotiating a figuring out a “long-term financial path” that would have helped Puerto Rico.
While both Democrat and Republican lawmakers had come to an agreement on the spending bill, President Trump thought that amount was “too much.”
Three sources told Politico that the president didn’t back the first agreed upon deal because Trump believed that the $12 billion awarded “was too much and pushed to reduce the total amount.” Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers had to then revise the amount being given due to prevent a government shutdown at the end of this week.
For Puerto Rico, things haven’t been easy this year as the island has leaned on short term funding extensions since the fall. This is due to it facing a fiscal cliff, a short-term money boost, back on Sept. 30 that would be expiring shortly after. The latest series of funding installments are set to expire this week.
This funding blow follows the tough times since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017 where over 3,000 people were killed and countless homes were destroyed. The hurricane only added more challenges in its negotiations to secure funding for a longer-term agreement for its Medicaid program. According to Politico, the funding “covers roughly 1.4 million low-income people.” In addition, the island has seen economic upheaval and political corruptness, an issue that lawmakers have tried to address by placing stronger measures to prevent inappropriate spending from public officials in Puerto Rico.
Per Politico, the funding slash was labeled as “a win for President Trump and the American people,” a White House spokesperson said. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a frequent Trump critic, didn’t see it that way.
“This administration remains committed to properly prioritizing U.S. taxpayer dollars,” Chase Jennings, a spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the news outlet. “With the historical waste we have faced in Puerto Rico, additional funding was not needed or fiscally responsible.”
Even some Puerto Rico officials lauded the spending bill that passed, praising the two-year extension of funding that was given. Jennifer Storipan, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, whose role is the main liaison between island officials and the federal government, said that the U.S. territory will only move forward with negotiations to secure long-term funding.
“We will continue to work hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a longer-term funding mechanism that provides stable healthcare to the people of Puerto Rico,” Storpan said.
Not all of Puerto Rico officials were on board with President Trump’s last-minute funding slash. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has previously sparred with Trump, wrote on Twitter that “Trump always discriminates against Puerto Ricans. That is why it is inconceivable that there are still Republican politicians in Puerto Rico who support it. “
While Puerto Rico will still be receiving a two-year extension when it comes to Medicaid funding, there is still looming uncertainty in the long run when it comes to health coverage for low-income residents.
While the spending package would provide additional stability to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program for the next two years, negotiations for additional funding would have to be jump-started again in three years. This has some people worried since the federal government treats the island’s Medicaid program differently because it’s considered a territory, not a state.
Instead, Puerto Rico receives a fixed grant instead of open-ended federal funding which has some like Robert Greenstein, who works with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, worried about the long term implications.
“With another funding cliff looming in two years under the new agreement, Puerto Rico may continue to lack the certainty it needs to commit to long-term increases of its very low payment rates to health care providers to stem their alarming exodus to the mainland, to provide coverage for such key health treatments as drugs to treat Hepatitis C, and to cover more poor, uninsured residents.”