Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, speaks during a campaign rally for Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, not pictured, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. Sanders visited Wisconsin as part of a nine-state swing with to give a boost to progressive candidates ahead of the November 6 midterm elections. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vt. (Photo: Daniel Acker/BB)

Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill that could make funding for the Medicaid and Medicare programs in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other U.S. territories more like the Medicaid and Medicare programs in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Sanders — a Vermont independent who votes with the Democrats in the Senate, and who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination — has rounded up support from seven Democratic colleagues in the Senate for S. 1773, the “Territories Health Equity Act of 2019″ bill.

(Related: CDC reports 683 Zika cases, 1 death in Puerto Rico)

Sanders notes in a summary of the bill that the United States provides open-ended funding for Medicare in the 50 states and the District of Columbia but puts a statutory cap on Medicaid spending in the territories.

The federal government also keeps low-income people in the territories from getting Medicare Part D prescription drug plan subsidies, and it holds reimbursement rates for hospitals in the territories to unrealistically low levels, Sanders says.

About 4 million people live in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.’

Sanders says S. 1773 would:

  • Eliminate the dollar cap on U.S. territories’ annual Medicaid funding.
  • Increase payments for hospitals in the territories that treat many uninsured or underinsured patients, to bring support closer to 50-state levels.
  • Enroll eligible Puerto Rico residents in the Medicare Part B outpatient and physician services plan automatically.
  • Provide Medicare Part D drug plan subsidies for low-income Medicare enrollees in the territories.

The  list of S. 1773 cosponsors includes several other senators who are competing with Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination: Kirsten Gillibrand, who represents New York;  Kamala Harris, who represents California; Cory Booker, who represents New Jersey; and Elizabeth Warren, who represents Massachusetts.

The other cosponsors in the Senate Jeff Merkley, of Oregon; Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut; and Ed Markey, of Massachusetts.

Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., has introduced H.R. 1354, a companion bill in the House. The House companion bill has 37 cosponsors.

Resources

The official Congress.gov information page for S. 1773 is available here.

— Read Puerto Rico Needs a Better Debt Dealon ThinkAdvisor.

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