Sunday, March 3, 2024

Puerto Rico waits for decision that could affect the island’s recovering economy

An upcoming decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar could be crucial for Puerto Rico’s economic recovery.

Azar is due in April to announce Medicare Advantage (MA) rates for the states and territories, a decision with enormous stakes for the island. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) wrote Azar Monday asking him to instruct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to adjust the way it calculates the territory’s slice of the pie of federal MA funds. 

In his letter, Rosselló said Puerto Rico’s benchmark rate for MA for 2018 is 43 percent lower than the national average. That means MA, a program that allows private service providers to deliver medicare services with a combination of federal Medicare funds and user fees, spends $483 dollars a month per Puerto Rican user on average, compared to a national average of $853. 

Rossello’s administration is asking Azar to help cut that gap, warning that a failure to do so could derail the island’s already teetering economy since the program is the financial backbone of the island’s healthcare industry. Luis Rivera Marín, Puerto Rico’s secretary of state, told attendants at the Puerto Rico Health and Insurance Conference that a failure to prop up the healthcare industry could have dire consequences.

Experts also warned that the pay scale differences are causing medical practitioners to migrate stateside. Eduardo Zetina, an actuarial consultant whose company also designs medical service apps, said bilingual doctors in Puerto Rico could move to New York and immediately triple their earnings. 

Along with the loss of MA funds, the island went into a bankruptcy-like state over its inability to pay more than $70 billion in debt before being struck by two massive hurricanes. In January, Congress provided some relief for the cash-strapped island by fully funding its Medicaid system for two years.