Thursday, March 25, 2010

Health Care Reform on the Island

History was made on Tuesday, March 23rd, when Pres. Obama officially signed the $940 billion heath care reform bill into law. No other U.S president has been able to achieve this herculean task, which was met with huge approval and enthusiasm on the island. Between 2011 to 2019, Puerto Rico is expected to get close to $6.6 billion in improving and increasing access to Medicaid services for low-income individuals and families, as well as expanding medical coverage to the uninsured. The island is said to have between 350,000 to 500,000 people without health insurance. Gov. Luis Fortuño, a Republican, was satisfied with the outcome of the health care bill. He is expected to provide more details sometime next week as to how his government is planning to use these health care funds.

Just as health insurance companies in the mainland U.S will be prohibited from refusing coverage to both children and adults with pre-existing conditions, they will also be prohibited from doing so in Puerto Rico. Dependent children will also be covered up until they reach the age of 26. Medicare drug prescription beneficiaries on the island will also see the so-called "doughnut hole," eliminated. Instead, they will receive a $250 annual reimbursement. One way in which this health care reform plan will be financed is through the increase of the Medicare tax from 1.45% to 2.35% for individuals who earn $200,000 or more, and for couples who earn $250,000 or more.

For those of us who already have a health insurance plan, our existing coverage will not be affected in any way. Last weekend, as the House of Representatives was debating over the health care legislation, and hundreds were on Capitol Hill protesting against it, calling health care reform "undemocratic," I was feeling rejoiced. No longer do I have to explain to my friends and relatives who live in Canada and Europe why the U.S does not provide universal health care coverage to its citizens. I recommend reading "Access, Access, Access," written by Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, who ingeniously puts the health care issue in perspective. Simply said, it was a question of either expanding or denying people access to health care.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Justice for Lorenzo

The mysterious death of an 8-year old boy, Lorenzo González, has been the topic of conversation on the island since his murder on March 9th. Tremendous sadness and consternation over this latest incident has led to the creation of Justicia para Lorenzo, a Facebook page, demanding for the perpetrators of this crime to be brought to justice. The police do not have any official suspects yet. The events leading up to the night of this little boy's murder remain largely unknown. However, it was his mother who brought him to the hospital. She allegedly claimed that he had fallen off his bed. Law enforcement authorities immediately discarded this theory, as the boy had severe wounds on his body. Forensics experts say they were produced by a sharp object.

Some of the details which have emerged from the case include the alleged visits of two men at the home of Lorenzo's mother during the night of the murder, and the finding of a pipe with signs of crack in it. Lorenzo's parents, whom are separated, have chosen two completely different paths in dealing with law enforcement authorities. The mother has remained silent, while the father has been cooperative. In an island where there is little faith in the local judicial system, people are demanding and pressuring law enforcement officials to act prudently and swiftly in solving this case. This murder has really struck many people's hearts and has everyone wondering what happened during that fateful night. Strangely enough, this story has not attracted much media attention outside of Puerto Rico. A peaceful march has been scheduled for tomorrow, March 21st, in memory of Lorenzo González.

Update (4/20/10): Ana Cacho, the mother of Lorenzo, has plead her innocence in an interview with a local radio station. Law enforcement officials have not officially named any suspects. The former secretary of the Dept. of Justice of Puerto Rico is part of Ana Cacho's legal team.

Update (9/19/10): A private detective contracted by Lorenzo's mother, Ana Cacho, wrote a book detailing the investigation of the murder. The book, titled “El caso Lorenzo: Desde mi Punto de Vista” (translation: "The Lorenzo Case: From My Point of View"), was written by Milton Rodríguez. Despite Ana Cacho's attempt to prevent its publication, a judge ruled in favor of the the author claiming freedom of speech. Meanwhile, the case remains unresolved.

(Image above obtained from Justicia para Lorenzo)