Bill Would Offer Funding to Border Hospitals for Uncompensated Care
Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) said he will introduce legislation this week aimed at providing additional funding for Arizona border hospitals and ambulance services that provide uncompensated emergency care for undocumented immigrants. There currently is no federal or state policy that allows medical providers to be reimbursed for care they give to illegal immigrants who are not in custody or who do not possess proof of residency in Arizona (Kolbe release, 6/18). Kolbe's bill would request $50 million in funding to "ease the financial burden on hospitals in the border region" by "prompt[ing]" federal agencies to reimburse medical care given to undocumented immigrants. Known as the Border Hospital Survival and Illegal Immigrant Care Act, the bill would allow the funding to flow directly to hospitals instead of into the state general fund. The program would be financed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and would be administered by HHS' Division of Immigration Health Services (Duarte, Arizona Daily Star, 6/19). Kolbe said, "Current INS policy, which avoids incurring medical costs for treating illegal immigrants, is ludicrous. ... Our hospitals provide medical care to illegal immigrants but are not being compensated. If we fail to act quickly, our hospitals will go bankrupt leaving the citizens in many areas of Arizona without access to medical care" (Kolbe release, 6/18). U.S. Border Patrol spokesperson Rene Noriega said that patrol agents are "legally obligated to ensure that people who need or request medical care receive it," adding that "care takes priority over other issues, including determination of citizenship."
Kolbe noted that states received more than $50 million to treat undocumented immigrants last year, but added that most of the funding went to cities with "a large undocumented population rather than border communities." The Daily Star reports that as more undocumented immigrants seek access to medical care, some hospitals in border areas are finding themselves writing off between $4 million and $7 million in debt each year for their treatment. Scott Zeilinger, program director for LifeNet, one of several air ambulance services in Arizona, said he expects air service companies throughout the state to face a $4 million debt write-off this year. Earlier this year, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill (S 169) that would provide $200 million per year over the next four years to reimburse medical services across the border region for treatment of undocumented immigrants (Arizona Daily Star, 6/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.