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.