Puerto Rico Left Out of Healthcare Reform?

There is a debate brewing over whether or not Latinos are being left out of healthcare reform efforts. Latino lawmakers say the reforms don’t apply to the 4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico, and they’re blaming Democratic leaders.

A new bill unveiled by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) raises questions about whether Puerto Ricans will be able to participate in a health insurance clearinghouse intended to reduce costs for Americans living in the 50 states. The problem with that is President Barack Obama promised Puerto Ricans during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary that they would receive equal healthcare assistance.

“During my campaign, we pledged to seek equal coverage of Puerto Rico in federal healthcare assistance programs,” Obama wrote earlier this year. “Although it may take some time to implement all of these proposals, Puerto Rico deserves no less.”

Some members of Congress maintain that Puerto Ricans don’t pay federal taxes, therefore they don’t deserve full healthcare benefits. Others—like Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Reps. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.—insist that Puerto Ricans have died for this country during times of war and deserve to be treated like every other American.

"Excluding the residents of Puerto Rico from a health care bill—or any bill—that is intended to protect our families is an outrage and demonstrates the kind of hypocrisy that makes people resent Washington," Gutierrez said in a statement to The Hill. "We owe more to our country and more to the Latino population, which is increasingly being pushed out of health care reform. When we effectively bar any population from buying private insurance from the exchange, we relegate them to emergency room care at the highest cost to taxpayers.”

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