Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently introduced legislation aimed at providing equitable treatment for U.S. territories in federal health care (programs like Medicaid and Medicare) named the Territories Health Equity Act of 2021 (H.R.3434). The Congresswoman released the following statements by herself and the other cosponsors of the Act:
“The Territories Health Equity Act of 2021 would address existing inequalities the territories face under Medicaid, Medicare and other federal health programs. Importantly, regarding Medicaid, it will provide them with their equitable share of federal funding for Medicaid beyond the upcoming “fiscal cliff” when much of the existing funding for the territories is scheduled to expire at the end of September 2021. Original co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. González-Colón, Radewagen, Sablan, San Nicolas, Soto, Velázquez, Grijalva, Pressley, Clarke and Torres of New York.
“People in the territories should have just as much access to health care as anyone else. In the midst of global pandemic, with more federal attention on how health care funding disparities have had a deleterious impact on the finances of local governments and hospitals in the territories, we believe that this is an opportune time to press for equity in Medicaid and Medicare.
“The inequities in federal funding provided to the territories for Medicaid and Medicare has put access to affordable health care out of reach for too many Virgin Islanders, making our hospitals’ emergency rooms the primary health care provider for the one-third of our population without health insurance, which contributes to unmanageable costs in uncompensated care.”
Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon said, “Millions of Puerto Ricans depend on Medicare and Medicaid programs to cover their healthcare needs. Our territorial status doesn’t allow beneficiaries to have access to the same programs and benefits and our healthcare providers to receive the same pay as those living stateside. This bill is necessary to correct these inequities and improve the wellbeing of people in all five U.S. territories, while also eliminating the ‘Medicaid cliff’ that burdens the healthcare and government sectors.”
Congresswoman Aumua Amata Radewagen said, “Working together, the territories have made important strides forward in ensuring Medicaid availability in recent years, but we need to continue that progress to gain the full parity with Medicaid and other benefit programs that our people deserve.”
“The Territories Health Equity Act will correct long-standing health inequities in the U.S. insular areas that are only made worse by chronic underfunding,” said Congressman Gregorio Sablan. “I thank Delegate Plaskett for incorporating the text of my bill, H.R. 265, which would avert the fiscal crisis Medicaid programs in our jurisdictions face when supplemental Medicaid funding ends in September.”
“Healthcare equity for our territories is fundamental to the premise that all Americans, regardless of where they live in this country, should be afforded full federal support,” said Congressman Michael F.Q. San Nicolas. “If we are to further believe that healthcare is a right and not a privilege, then surely the support of full Medicaid inclusion for those without privilege must be made right.”
“American citizens living in U.S. territories deserve the same access to healthcare as those living in the mainland,” said Congressman Darren Soto. “The current system puts a strain on the territories’ Medicaid programs, like in Puerto Rico, during a time when they need more support than ever. Our bipartisan bill will eliminate unfair Medicaid funding limits for U.S. territories and make it easier for individuals to receive necessary coverage.”
“Healthcare is a human right, and the equitable distribution of that healthcare must be at the forefront of our legislative priorities on the mainland, and throughout U.S. Wherever and whenever an opportunity exists to overcome these inequities, to protect and preserve an individual’s right to quality healthcare, we must seize it,” said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. “I am proud to stand alongside Rep. Plaskett as she reintroduces this critically important legislation because, let me be very clear, citizens of U.S. territories are Americans, and they deserve to be treated as such. Full stop.”
Among other things, the bill:
eliminates Medicaid funding limits for U.S. territories, beginning FY2022;
improves Medicare reimbursements to hospitals in U.S. territories;
permits Medicaid and Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments to U.S. territories;
allows residents of U.S. territories to be eligible for low-income subsidies under the Medicare prescription drug benefit; and
allows residents of U.S. territories who are unable to obtain health insurance through their employer or a health insurance exchange to instead access marketplace insurance coverage that is available to members of Congress and congressional staff.