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World Affairs

Florida Senator: Help Puerto Rico And U.S. Virgin Islands Before They Run Out Of Health-Care Dollars

A Puerto Rican farmer surveys his property damage in the northeast town of Loiza after Hurricane Maria.
A Puerto Rican farmer surveys his property damage in the northeast town of Loiza after Hurricane Maria.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has co-signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to send more support to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Health-care funding was already tight before the storms, particularly in financially unstable Puerto Rico, where nearly half the population is covered by Medicaid.

In most of the United States, Medicaid is funded through a mix of state and federal dollars; the more a state spends, the more money it gets from the feds. But Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands get a fixed amount of federal dollars for Medicaid—and lawmakers are worried they could run out of health-care funding.

The physical damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria further hobbled the islands’ health-care systems.

From the letter:

“We are grateful for the public health emergency declaration in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but more can and should be done to help Americans impacted by these disasters. … Only 17 of Puerto Rico’s hospitals have electricity. Both hospitals on the U.S. Virgin Islands have been catastrophically damaged with one already condemned by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Governor of the Virgin Islands has publicly indicated his expectation that both will have to be knocked down and rebuilt entirely to be suitable for patient readmissions. Hospitals are rationing services, forgoing elective operations, and making difficult decisions on prioritizing patients due to limited facilities, equipment, medication, communication, fuel and power.”

The lawmakers who signed the letter urge the Department of Health and Human Services to send more Medicaid funding as well as disaster management experts to help coordinate rebuilding of health-care infrastructure. You can read the full letter here.

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