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BRAIN DRAIN: Puerto Rico’s Gov. Garcia Padilla Trying To Stem The Tide Of Doctors Fleeing The Commonwealth

NO PAIN, NO STRAIN, ALL’S YOU DO IS LET IT DRAIN: The government of Puerto Rico is trying to keep its best and its brightest on the beautiful Emerald Isle.

SAN JUAN — In an attempt to prevent more doctors from leaving, and perhaps even pull back the hundreds gone over the last couple years, the new governor of Puerto Rico has included in his first package of bills a measure that is basically a lifesaver for the medical profession on the island.

The measure seeks to lower the fixed income tax rate on all practicing physicians, from the current 33 percent to 4 percent. It also proposes a tax exemption for the first $250,000 earned.

Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosello, a scientist with no political experience, was sworn in last week.

“Puerto Rico’s recovery begins today,” he said in his inauguration speech.

Over the last 12 years, Puerto Rico lost 2,422 doctors – about 347 doctors per year – according to local newspaper El Nuevo Dia, This has led to a dramatic shortage of health services in the island.

“Perhaps without knowing it or having planned it, we are training professionals to go to other places,” said Jaime Plá, executive president of Puerto Rico’s Hospital Association.

“Puerto Rico is becoming the supplier of professionals, not only in the health area but also in engineering,” he said, as quoted by the paper.

Puerto Ricans have been hit with dozens of new taxes in the past four years and increases in utility bills as former Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla aimed to generate more revenue for a government he said was running out of money.

Despite those and other measures, the island’s government has defaulted on millions of dollars’ worth of bond payments and declared a state of emergency at several agencies.

Rossello said he also aims to boost public-private partnerships and use that revenue to save a retirement system that faces a $40 billion deficit and is expected to collapse in less than a year.

He pledged to work closely with a federal control board that U.S. Congress created last year to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances, and he has said he supports negotiations with creditors to help restructure a public debt of nearly $70 billion.

The federal control board has requested a revised fiscal plan that has to be approved by end of January, saying that the one Garcia Padilla submitted last year was in part unrealistic and relied too heavily on federal funds — he refused include austerity measures.

Rossello has said he would request an extension of that deadline as well as an extension of a moratorium that expires in February and currently protects Puerto Rico from lawsuits filed by angered creditors.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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