OP-ED: We Need to Act Now to Save Puerto Rico’s Healthcare System

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

New York is home to one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the country. Many of us have family living in the Island, myself included. We need to work together to raise our voice and call on the federal government to act now to safeguard the healthcare system of our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters before it is too late.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who buy into the system and pay the same Medicare taxes. Yet the island receives less healthcare funding than any of the fifty states. Some individuals lean on Puerto Rico’s territorial status to preserve this status quo. But however you cut it, this is nothing short of discriminatory funding and it has the Island’s healthcare system on the brink of collapse. The situation is so bad that some advocates estimate that one doctor a day leaves Puerto Rico to go work in the states.

Sixty percent of the Island’s population – more than 2 million patients – receives their care through Medicare, Medicare Advantage or Medicaid. Even though these public programs are such a large portion of Puerto Rico’s health care industry, practitioners receive much smaller Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates than those received by their counterparts on the mainland. And now the federal government wants to cut funding even more.

Why is the health of Puerto Ricans worth less than that of other Americans? This situation is beyond shameful. And it gets worse.

Puerto Rico is currently facing one of the greatest fiscal and economic crises in modern history and the austerity measures necessary for its fiscal well-being are sure to take a toll on public health services. The healthcare industry represents 20 percent of the Island’s GDP. A collapse would not only jeopardize care for millions of U.S. citizens, but could result in a dramatic blow to Puerto Rico’s already fragile economy.

The survival of Puerto Rico’s healthcare system is beyond critical. If the government does not intervene, hundreds of thousands of patients will see a dramatic decrease in their healthcare coverage.

Puerto Rican families deserve access to affordable high quality healthcare. This is not a privilege – it is a right for every U.S. citizen. The Puerto Rican community has contributed greatly to this nation’s society, culture, armed forces and beyond. We cannot abandon them now at this time of need. We need to act now to save Puerto Rico’s healthcare system.

Bad to worse simply cannot be the allowed outcome. As we prepare to mark the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and the innumerable contributions of this community, we can and should deliver a strong message to Puerto Ricans – that their well-being and lives matter and that they will not be subjected to second-class treatment and disregarded.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Council Speaker