Thursday, May 5th, 2016
House Democrats are preemptively pushing back against any further health spending cuts in Puerto Rico, arguing the arrival of the Zika virus on the island makes resources more critical than ever.
In a new report, Democrats emphasize that Puerto Rico, grappling with a massive debt crisis, has already slashed its Department of Health budget by 15 percent from 2011 to 2015. With conservatives wary of signing on to a bill to help the island deal with its debt woes, Democrats are trying to take healthcare cuts off the table.
Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee, which is handling the bill, instead are pushing for boosted health resources as the island faces an influx of the Zika virus.
“When drastic cuts are used to shrink public spending, the consequences on the public’s health are disastrous,” the report claimed. “As Congress considers legislation to help Puerto Rico emerge from this humanitarian crisis, further austerity measures must be off the table. A robust public health infrastructure and health care system are essential in fighting threats like Zika and recovering the economy.”
The framework of the legislation, which is still being tweaked, would establish an outside fiscal control board and also allow Puerto Rico to restructure its $70 billion in debt.
But one of the lingering concerns from Democrats is that an outside control board could order further budget cuts on the island at a time when the Zika virus puts many of its residents at risk.
Beyond opposing any further cuts to health care spending, Democrats argued in the report from boosted Medicaid funds for the island, which would put it at the same level as comparable states.
The arrival of Zika in Puerto Rico has put added stress on the island’s resources, which were already stretched thin after years of economic decline and dwindling revenue.