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Nelson introduces bill to help Puerto Rico’s seniors

Nelson introduces bill to help Puerto Rico’s seniors

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Less than a day after Puerto Rico narrowly avoided defaulting on its outstanding debt obligation, one U.S. lawmaker is looking to help the island avert yet another looming crisis: the collapse of its health care system.

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation today to help the island’s low-income seniors afford the cost of their prescription drugs.  Specifically, the legislation – cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) – would make Puerto Rico’s Medicare beneficiaries eligible for the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy program and provide them with federal subsidies to help cover their monthly health care premiums and other out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

“Puerto Ricans are fellow Americans – and it is unfair that they are not given the same prescription-drug benefits as seniors living in the states,” said Nelson. “Unequal access to health care only further hampers Puerto Rico’s ability to get through their current financial crisis.”

FILE - In this July 17, 2013 file photo, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla speaks during a news conference at the governor's executive mansion in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Garcia Padilla says he plans to boost the island's sluggish coffee industry by generating thousands new jobs and cultivating an additional 16,000 acres (6,400 hectares) in the next two years. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

FILE – In this July 17, 2013 file photo, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla speaks during a news conference at the governor’s executive mansion in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Garcia Padilla says he plans to boost the island’s sluggish coffee industry by generating thousands new jobs and cultivating an additional 16,000 acres (6,400 hectares) in the next two years. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

Under current law, Medicare beneficiaries living in Puerto Rico or any other U.S. territory are excluded from participating in the Low Income Subsidy program.  Instead, Congress created a separate Medicaid allotment to help beneficiaries living in Puerto Rico that required the Puerto Rican government to match nearly half the cost of the subsidies provided.

But, as the island continues to struggle financially, officials there now say they simply can’t afford to match the subsidies, leaving the island’s low-income seniors on their own to cover the full cost of any prescription drugs they may need.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 60 percent of the 730,000 Medicare beneficiaries living in Puerto Rico stand to benefit if Nelson’s legislation becomes law.

The bill filed today is just the latest in a series of actions the Florida Democrat has taken this year to help the people of Puerto Rico.  In July, Nelson and others introduced legislation that would give Puerto Rico the right to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy, a right already enjoyed by all 50 states.  He also joined three fellow senators to introduce legislation to improve the treatment of Puerto Rico under Medicare and Medicaid.

The text of Nelson’s legislation is available here.

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