SAN JUAN – Puerto Rican doctors on Wednesday complained about a massive reduction in the funding provided by U.S. authorities for health care, pointing to this as one of the reasons why more than 3,000 health professionals have left the island over the past five years.
The president of the Independent Practice Association of Puerto Rico, Dr. Jose Joaquin Vargas, told EFE that the group he heads will join the United for Health march called for Thursday in San Juan to protest the cutback in federal health care allocations to the U.S. commonwealth.
Vargas emphasized that the group will join the protest so that Washington will get the message that fair treatment is demanded for Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents.
He said that the problem stems from the fact that since 2011 U.S. authorities have been reducing federal funding for public health programs in Puerto Rico, a situation that so far has resulted in the sector being denied some $3 billion.
Vargas emphasized that the loss of those funds has had a chain reaction, given that the Puerto Rican administration now allocates less money to insurance firms contracted to serve the public and these companies, in turn, have cut back on their contracts with physicians who treat those patients.
The doctors, given the dropoff in income, are mostly opting to seek better opportunities outside of Puerto Rico, mainly in the United States, and so the figure of 3,000 physicians who have left the island could continue to rise if measures are not taken to ameliorate the problem.
In Puerto Rico, more than 2 million people benefit from federal public health programs – Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid – although those programs receive a much smaller percentage of funds per patient than the rest of the United States.
Medicare provides medical care for people 65 and older, Medicaid covers people who cannot buy private insurance and Medicare Advantage is one of the programs being offered under the Medicare system that subsidizes private health insurance plans.
Vargas said that it makes no sense for Washington to allocate less money to Puerto Ricans than to other U.S. citizens simply because the Caribbean island has a different status: that of a U.S. commonwealth.
He noted that U.S. authorities justified the measure by falling back on a hypothetical cost of living calculation that they say is much lower in Puerto Rico than in the rest of the country.
“But that’s not true, since it’s been proven that the cost of housing, rent, food and a long list of other items is the same in Puerto Rico as in the other U.S. states,” Vargas said.
According to figures he provided, the reduction in funds has resulted – in the case of Medicare – in the Puerto Rican government receiving about $420 per citizen per year, compared with an average of $1,200 received in the rest of the states.