Why Parity Cannot Achieve Citizenship Equality … But Can Undermine It
“Parity” is a term well known to the American citizens of Puerto Rico. Simply put, parity is a principle by which politicians of both major parties in Puerto Rico (i.e. the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and the pro-status quo Popular Democratic Party) avoid pushing a solution to Puerto Rico’s status while simultaneously pushing for more “state-like” treatment of Puerto Rico in federally sanctioned programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)–to name but a few–that are currently applied to Puerto Rico in an inequitable manner as compared to the states. Parity applies to just about any federal policy question, from education and healthcare to crime prevention and business ownership and everything in between.
On of the latest parity binges came on the hills of the Healthcare Reform debates in Congress.
In a public letter straightforwardly entitled “Parity for Puerto Rico: Memorandum of Agreement,” (MoA) Gov. Fortuño and a wide coalition of relevant leaders in the territory (the PPD’s irrelevant legislative leadership included) agreed to a “common position to present to policymakers in Washington as they debate national health care reform.”
The MoA starts from one “basic proposition[:] Puerto Rico must be brought into the healthcare system on an equal basis with every other American jurisdiction.” It further claims that “it makes no sense from a strictly policy perspective to have a system where the same U.S. citizens who receive healthcare impaired by lesser federal funding while residing in Puerto Rico can access better-funded care merely by moving to [one] of the states.” The MoA also points to an Obama “pledge” to include Puerto Rico without “inequalities in treatment,” and proceeds to highlight some of the most egregious disparities in Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP—with the added bonus of looking at what will happen in the area of Medicare Advantage, the so-called Part D.
Here are the charges, albeit quickly (look below in Must-Axxess Files for the complete MoA):
- Medicaid is flawed in two ways because Congress has capped not only its share of the costs in terms of percentage but also in terms of absolute dollars. In other words, based on per capita income, Puerto Rico would be entitled to a federal contribution of 83 percent toward the costs, but Congress has capped the federal share at 50 percent for Puerto Rico and capped the absolute dollar amount, which today represents only 17 percent of the total burden of the costs of Medicaid (basically flip-flopping federal-statal burdens).
- Medicare treats Americans in Puerto Rico and their healthcare providers differently in four ways: 1) no automatic enrollment in Part B; 2) unfair payments under the Disproportionate Share Hospital; 3) limited block grant funding of Part D, instead of need-based funding; and 4) lower reimbursement payments for in-patient hospital services.
- SCHIP for the Americans in Puerto Rico is based on a “limited set-aside basis” and not on the real number of low-income children.
- The Bonus: Part D. Because of the aforementioned inequalities, Puerto Ricans have enrolled in Part D plans in higher proportions, so any changes by Congress to the plan will affect the Americans on the territory disproportionally.
Gov. Luis Fortuño’s pro-statehood PNP likes parity because it seems to seal the fate of Puerto Rico as the 51st state through the implementation of “state-like” treatment for the island territory; the Enemies of Equality like parity because it keeps the voters “happy” and they do not have to mess with the pesky details of having citizenship inequality or defining their status preference.
Both parties’ perspectives are wrong.
Nothing will keep the PPD’s farce from being exposed. The very fact that we are having to pursue “parity” shatters their argument of an equal Puerto Rico. But they are not interested in hidding the inequality; they just want to stall the inevitable changes for as long as they may.
It is because of the stalling nature of parity that the PNP cannot continue to indulge in the parity scheme; it feeds every notion that the Enemies of Equality through the PPD seem to support—mainly the “Best of Both Worlds” notion is indeed possible–it isn’t. In fact, there is no threat that the Congressional cow will give up all of its milk to Puerto Rico without full integration, which in and of itself points to the futility of “parity.”
Let the rest of us, subsequently, not confuse “Parity” with “Equality,” for doing so amounts to an odd principle of “United but Unequal.”
This is not to ignore the very real inequalities spelled out above, in the MoA, and in many other sources, but parity is not the answer. As stated before, the idea of parity cuts across every policy area. So, are supporters of citizenship equality supposed to believe that piecemeal changes through parity in different policy areas over many years can achieve the universal parity we all know a vote on self-determination can achieve immediately?
The idea of universal parity includes within it essential aspects of Puerto Rico’s inequality that are not covered under the current vision of parity, which is the scaffolding of the MoA and many other issue-specific parity campaigns. Parity as we know it under those terms cannot provide for the democratic and civil injustices that occur outside of the year-to-year budget talks or the considerations of this or that federal programs on the territory because it ignores the underlying constitutional premise: Puerto Rico is not equal; therefore, Congress can treat it as such.
It is understandable why the PPD and the Enemies of Equality would love to continue on the parity binge, halving inequality perpetually without providing for a complete end to it. Nevertheless, for the PNP and all supporters of citizenship equality, the idea of parity ought to be anathema to their beliefs and goals of full citizenship equality.
Instead, said supporters should focus their energies on exposing all the inequalities that exist, not just the policy-related ones, which are simply products of Puerto Rico’s constitutional inequality. Facts are facts, but how we use those facts will have tremendously serious repercussions on the lives of four million American citizens in Puerto Rico. Let the Enemies of Equality pursue parity if they want to, but let us not fall into their trap.
Let us fight for Universal Parity through self-determination.