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Gov. supports fight for fair Medicare funding for P.R.

Members of the Puerto Rico Medicare Coalition for Fairness address the Chamber of Commerce this week.

Members of the Puerto Rico Medicare Coalition for Fairness address the Chamber of Commerce this week.

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla, publicly expressed his full support to the Puerto Rico Medicare Coalition for Fairness’ efforts aimed at repairing disparities in Medicare funding to the island during the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Health and Insurance conference that took place this week at the Condado Plaza Hilton hotel.

The Medicare Advantage program in Puerto Rico is going through severe funding cuts related to the Affordable Care Act. To put it into perspective, it is estimated that Puerto Rico has lost more than $1 billion in funding between 2011 and 2014, and is expected to lose more than $5 billion more in the next five years.

In a jurisdiction whose population’s median household income is 62 percent less than the U.S. national average, these cuts put in serious jeopardy the island’s entire healthcare system, let alone the health care access for the more than 530,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the island, the Coalition said.

“García-Padilla is actively engaged with the Department of Health and Human Services, CMS and the island’s entire healthcare infrastructure to assure that the days of discriminating against Puerto Rico are over,” said Juan Eugenio Hernández Mayoral, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and active supporter of the Coalition’s efforts. “The time to bridge the fiscal gap in Medicare Advantage is now.”

At the moment, Medicare Advantage base rates in Puerto Rico are almost 30 percent below the lowest state. In addition, Puerto Rico has also been excluded from the Part D Low Income Subsidy since 2006, which represents an estimated loss for the island of more than $250 million in prescription drug benefits per year.

Given the situation, healthcare leaders grouped through the Coalition have launched a lobbying campaign to raise awareness in U.S. Congress about the unintended harm these funding cuts will cause to all those retirees and low income beneficiaries being forced to spend more out-of-pocket dollars to pay more premiums and copays.

Multi-faceted lobbying
The Coalition’s lobbying initiatives include a letter with proposals recently sent to President Obama and a letter writing campaign in response to the Advance Notice recently published by CMS. Also, advocacy efforts in Washington DC and New York have been recently carried out by Coalition members Jim O’Drobinak, CEO at MCS; Joaquín Vargas, president of the IPA Association; Rolance Chavier, family physician, former president of the Puerto Rico Medical Association and current delegate of the American Medical Association on the island; Elliot Pacheco, president of the Puerto Rico Community Pharmacies Association; William Toby, former HCFA administrator and Health Policy Advisor; Roberto Pando, strategy senior vice president at MCS; and Earl Harper, CEO at Humana Puerto Rico, among others.

Advocacy efforts in New York included a meeting with Jim Kerr, acting deputy director of operations in the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight. The CCIIO is charged with implementing numerous major provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Kerr is working to overhaul major national policies that set and enforce standards for health insurance that promote fair and reasonable practices to ensure affordable, quality health care coverage is available to all Americans.

For his part, Toby stressed during the activity that “it is utmost important for the Coalition to maintain its momentum of growing community support against federal Medicare cuts that will harm vulnerable beneficiaries in Puerto Rico”.

Coalition leader O’Drobinak said that “the Coalition’s crusade goes on with continued planned meetings with CMS officials and the White House task force to increase funding for the Puerto Rico Medicare program.”

“The bipartisan support we have received during this whole crusade has been paramount in our quest for fairer Medicare funding for Puerto Rico. The fact that officials from both major parties have come in unity to protect the Puerto Rico beneficiaries’ right to proper health care proves that this cause transcends the political arena, as everyone sets forth the greater good: the people’s well-being,” O’Drobinak added.

“And in the pursuit of that greater good, we pledge to continue educating policymakers on the impact of the MA cuts to the Puerto Rico beneficiaries,” he said.

Chamber of Commerce President Jorge Cañellas, center, supports the Coalition's efforts.

Chamber of Commerce President Jorge Cañellas, center, supports the Coalition’s efforts.

Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President Jorge Cañellas-Fidalgo, who also supports the Coalition, said to be pleased with the growing support for the organization’s efforts.

“We’re very happy with the full support shown by García-Padilla, as well as other members of his cabinet. Especially after having such a crowded audience that includes important members of the industry and of the local and federal government as well,” Cañellas said. “I’m sure this will propel the Coalition’s initiatives to achieve Medicare funding equality for Puerto Rico beneficiaries.”

The Puerto Rico Medicare Coalition for Fairness was founded in October 2013 to support specific policy changes proposed to Congress due to the increasing cuts to the Part D and Medicare Advantage programs. Its members include: Community Pharmacies Association of Puerto Rico; Medicaid and Medicare Advantage Association of Puerto Rico; the Puerto Rico Hospital Association; AARP of Puerto Rico; Public Health Association of Puerto Rico; Primary Health Association of Puerto Rico; Health Administrators Association of Puerto Rico; Clinical Laboratories Association; Pharmaceutical Industry Association of Puerto Rico; Ponce School of Medicine; IPA Association of Puerto Rico; and Medical Association of Puerto Rico, among others.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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