Trump administration claims cutting Puerto Rico's health care is 'fiscally responsible'

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Trump has been criticized for his treatment of the island in the past, particularly his response in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Donald Trump intervened in a recent spending bill in order to slash federal Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico, Politico reported on Wednesday.

According to the outlet, the final spending deal included just $5.7 over two years for the program. Bipartisan congressional leaders had previously agreed on providing $12 billion in Medicaid funds for the struggling U.S. territory over four years.

"This administration remains committed to properly prioritizing U.S. taxpayer dollars," a spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget told the publication. "With the historical waste we have faced in Puerto Rico, additional funding was not needed or fiscally responsible."

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According to Politico, "a White House spokesperson characterized the Puerto Rico funding deal as a 'win for President Trump and the American people.'"

Trump has long faced scrutiny over his treatment of the island territory.

Back in September 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, a lethal Category 5 storm that brought an estimated $139 billion in devastation and an left ongoing humanitarian crisis. Trump initially promised a "massive federal mobilization" to help what he termed "an island surrounded by water — big water, ocean water."

During a subsequent visit to the island, Trump promised survivors "we're gonna help you out," before telling them to "have a good time.

But after his administration's response proved inadequate, local officials began to criticize Trump. Trump then declared a virtual war on the island, calling its government "incompetent" and "corrupt," falsely accusing the territory of scamming the federal government to use aid funds to reduce its debt, and seeking to stop all federal recovery money for Maria.

Contrary to the administration's initial optimistic numbers of less than 100 fatalities, estimates put the direct and indirect death toll from Maria closer to 3,000. Many of these were from medical conditions exacerbated by the storm's traumatic impact and aftermath.

With about 1.4 million low-income Puerto Ricans covered by Medicaid (out of about 3.2 million residents), continued funding for the program is essential.

"With another funding cliff looming in two years under the new agreement, Puerto Rico may continue to lack the certainty it needs to commit to long-term increases of its very low payment rates to health care providers to stem their alarming exodus to the mainland, to provide coverage for such key health treatments as drugs to treat Hepatitis C, and to cover more poor, uninsured residents," Robert Greenstein, an expert with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Politico on Wednesday.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.