Bush Administration Abandons Proposal To Require Hospitals To Ask Patients About Immigrant Status
The Bush administration is "backing off" its proposed plan to require hospitals that treat undocumented immigrants to ask patients about their immigration status to obtain federal funds for providing indigent emergency care, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/1).
The program, announced by CMS officials in July, will offer U.S. hospitals $1 billion over four years to pay for the emergency care of uninsured patients, regardless of their citizenship status. The government will distribute two-thirds of the funds among all states, and states with the largest number of undocumented immigrants will receive the remainder. For hospitals to receive the funds, they must ask uninsured patients whether they are U.S. citizens; lawful permanent residents; aliens with valid, current employment authorization cards; students, tourists or business travelers with nonimmigrant visas; or foreign citizens with 72-hour border crossing cards.
The program's funding was included in the new Medicare law passed last year. Through the program, the government aims to determine the number of undocumented immigrants who receive treatment from U.S. hospitals and ambulance services (California Healthline, 8/19).
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan on Friday sent a letter to hospital and advocacy groups saying that public health concerns prompted him to decide to determine hospitals' eligibility for the new funds in other ways. Some have suggested that collecting documentation like Social Security numbers and foreign driver licenses could be an alternative for hospitals to determine immigrants' status.
McClellan said, "As a result of these pending changes, providers will not be asked -- and should not ask -- about a patient's citizenship status in order to receive payment under this program." He said that new rules would be issued soon.
Prompting the changes was "a torrent of criticism" from U.S. hospitals and immigrant advocacy groups, which said that requiring them to report patients' immigration status would deter immigrants from seeking necessary care, according to the AP/Sun. Some patients might fear that the information they provide could be used against them in deportation proceedings, the AP/Sun reports.
The Bush administration has said that the information would not be used to determine whether an immigrant should be deported. The National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems said the original proposal could create "peril for those individuals, a public health threat to the entire community and higher costs for treating patients at later disease stages" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/1).
KQED's "The California Report" on Friday reported on criticism of the Bush administration's proposed plan to require hospitals that treat undocumented immigrants to ask patients about their immigration status to obtain federal funds for providing indigent emergency care. The segment includes comments from California Healthcare Association spokesperson Jan Emerson and California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative Director Reshma Shamasunder (Margolis, "The California Report," KQED, 10/1). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.