Washington – Democrats are omitting a clear health equity problem: the disparate treatment of low-income seniors 65 and older in Puerto Rico. This is happening as Democrats get closer to the biggest change of the Medicare prescription medication coverage in 20 years.
Puerto Ricans are entitled to less assistance than other older individuals when it comes to paying for their pharmacy medication premiums and their prescription drug prices, despite paying the same Medicare taxes as other Americans. Despite all of the Democrats’ posturing about health equity this Congress, no legislation that would level the playing field has been included.
Only persons 65 and older who make less than $10,219 per year, or 75% of the federal poverty threshold, are currently eligible for further assistance in Puerto Rico. The same patient would be eligible if they resided in a state like Florida even if their annual income was up to $20,385 (150 percent of the poverty threshold). According to a body that represents the insurers in the region, there are currently between 120,000 and 150,000 people who qualify for subsidies.
There is a human element to it. Is a grandmother’s health in Puerto Rico more important than it is in Florida, Alaska, Texas, or Tennessee? According to George Laws Garca, executive director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, the morally correct response is no.
Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, however many government programmes may not treat them equally because they reside in a territory rather than a state. The Supreme Court has made a number of decisions that are founded on racist stereotypes but yet stand as the supreme law of the land, giving Congress the legal right to enact discriminatory regulations for residents of territory. The so-called Insular Cases lay out a legal framework that holds that citizens in U.S. territories are not entirely covered by the Constitution. In 1901, the first cases were determined.
Due in part to the fact that people of territories are “foreign races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation, and patterns of thought,” one court ruled that Puerto Ricans did not have the same rights as U.S. citizens.
Puerto Ricans still have difficulty receiving equal federal benefits. Jose Luis Vaello-Madero filed a lawsuit against the government in one instance earlier this year because his federal disability benefits were terminated after he moved from New York to Puerto Rico. Although the conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch said there might be a chance to overturn the Insular Cases in the future, the Supreme Court soundly rejected him in an 8-1 ruling.