During an overnight “solidarity mission” to Puerto Rico, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that a “health SWAT team” from New York would work with Puerto Rican officials to provide “critical assistance” in transforming the island’s health care system, which is on the brink of collapse due to programmed cuts in federal programs.
Cuomo also announced initiatives in the areas of energy efficiency, tourism, agriculture and business and technology development in universities, all designed to help Puerto Rico’s struggling economy.
The 16-member delegation from New York, which included New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Charles Rangel, also vowed to “become a strong voice” that will force the federal government to pay more attention to the economic and social problems affecting Puerto Rico.
“It is hard to overstate the relationship between New York and Puerto Rico. Your problems really are New York’s problems. That’s not just rhetoric, it’s not an expression, it’s a practical truth and a reality,” Cuomo said to more than 400 doctors, medical students and local residents during a roundtable discussion at the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Infirmary.
Puerto Rico, which has a population of 3.5 million, is in the midst of an economic recession that spans a decade. Almost 68 percent of these U.S. citizens receive their health care through Medicare, Medicare Advantage or Medicaid, but while they pay the same Medicare and Social Security taxes as mainland U.S. residents, the island receives on average half the federal health care funds as the states.
Cuomo also expressed his support for giving Puerto Rico the ability to pursue bankruptcy protection to be able to restructure its $72 billion debt.
“I don’t believe the federal government has been fair with Puerto Rico,” Cuomo said. “I don’t think you have gotten the attention, the care and the financial support you deserve from the federal government, and it’s a situation the people in America don’t fully understand.”
The New York team targeting health care costs will assist Puerto Rico in replicating the success of Cuomo’s Medical Redesign Team, which officials said has significantly improved the efficiency of New York’s health care delivery system by reducing costs and improving patient outcomes.
Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said the Medicare disparity is a “game changer” for the island, because unlike any of the states, federal funding under Obamacare here is capped, and Puerto Rico received a one-time block grant of $6.4 billion that is expected to run out by 2017.
“When we are asking for parity, it’s because we pay the same as the states,” García Padilla said. “We’re not asking for anything that wasn’t earned. We pay the same, and we are owed what we pay for. This is the first of many events we are planning to move this issue forward, including a March for the Health of Puerto Rico on Nov. 7, not only in New York but Orlando and other locations as well.”
Other initiatives announced by the New York officials include a $5 million joint “I Love NY” tourism campaign to promote travel between New York and Puerto Rico; a team to advise and guide Puerto Rico’s transition towards renewable energy, and the creation of an agriculture team to help the island meet the federal Food Safety Modernization Act and grow its agricultural sector.
Additionally, New York will hold a commercialization summit connecting promising early-stage Puerto Rican businesses, entrepreneurial student and institutions of higher education to New York seed funds in order to foster commercialization and greater economic activity in Puerto Rico.
The New York delegation arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday afternoon and participated in a reception at La Fortaleza – the Puerto Rican governor’s mansion – that night. On Tuesday morning, Mark-Viverito was interviewed on local radio and television programs while Cuomo was on CNN speaking about the visit to Puerto Rico.
Following the roundtable, Cuomo and the delegation departed for northern San Juan with García Padilla for a tour of La Placita de Santurce, which was cut short because the group needed to head back to the airport to catch their return flight on time.
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