Guam feels the Bern as Sanders introduces Medicaid parity bill for Guam, territories

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Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill would provide Guam and the territories with the same need-based, open-ended Medicaid funding that is currently available to the 50 states and the District of Columbia

Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill that would correct long-standing inequities in federal health care funding for Medicaid and Medicare and gives Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and other U.S. territories access to the health care they need.

In the states, Medicaid has an open-ended financing structure. But in Guam and the other U.S. territories, Medicaid is essentially a block grant with an annual ceiling.

Sanders’ bill, if it becomes law, would provide Guam and the territories with the same need-based, open-ended Medicaid funding that is currently available to the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Called the Territories Health Equity Act of 2019, S.1773 eliminates the arbitrary cap on annual federal Medicaid funding and increases the federal matching rate for the territories’ Medicaid expenditures.

The bill would also address Medicare disparities by updating hospital reimbursements and increasing funding for the territories to provide prescription drug coverage to low-income seniors.

In addition, the bill would ensure that Americans living in the territories are eligible for health coverage that is as comprehensive as the coverage available to Members of Congress.

“It is unconscionable that in the wealthiest nation in the world we have allowed our fellow citizens to suffer for so long,” Sanders said in a statement accompanying the bill.

“The full resources of the United States must be brought to bear on this crisis, for as long as is necessary. We must go forward to ensure a strong health care system in all the territories and address inequities in federal law that have allowed the territories to fall behind in almost every measurable social and economic criteria,” he added.

Reacting to the legislation, Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas said that as a co-sponsor of the House version of S.1773, he is excited to have Senator Sanders joining Guam in the fight for territorial healthcare equality.

“These measures will bring much needed parity in the Medicaid funding levels for Guam and relieve a legacy pressure point that has been choking our healthcare budgets for decades,” San Nicolas said.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero has also been lobbying for equitable treatment of Guam and other territories with regard to Medicaid funding.

While at the Western Governors Association’s 2019 annual meeting this week, governor Leon Guerrero had a chance to directly address Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and asked for his continued assistance in bringing parity to Guam’s Medicaid program.

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