House Defeats Bill To Require Doctors To Report Undocumented Immigrants in Their Care
The House on Tuesday voted 331-88 against a bill (HR 3722) that would have required emergency department physicians to report undocumented immigrants that they treat and to deny most types of emergency care to them, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Coile, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/19). Under the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), hospitals that accept federal funds to treat undocumented immigrants would have to ask patients whether they are U.S. citizens. Hospitals would have to report to the Department of Homeland Security the immigration statuses, addresses and employers of patients who are not U.S. citizens. In addition, hospitals would have to collect patients' fingerprints or a different "biometric indicator to be decided" by the department. The bill also would require employers who hire undocumented immigrants to cover the cost of their unreimbursed emergency care. Rohrabacher drafted the bill in response to a provision in the new Medicare law that will provide $1 billion over four years to reimburse hospitals for treatment provided to undocumented immigrants (California Healthline, 5/11). According to the Chronicle, lawmakers from both parties are "actively courting Latino voters and are loath to back any measure seen as anti-immigrant"; however, Republican leaders agreed to guarantee a vote on the bill after Rohrabacher made it a condition of his support for the new Medicare law (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/19). The bill was put to the floor under suspension of the rules, which bars amendments and requires a two-thirds majority for passage. Rohrabacher said Monday that House leaders had promised him another vote on the bill if he could obtain a simple majority, a "promise [that] became moot with Tuesday's vote," CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 5/18). Hospitals spend nearly $1.5 billion annually to treat undocumented immigrants (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/19).
Latino lawmakers, hospital associations and immigrant-rights associations opposed the bill, saying that it would "turn hospitals into law enforcement agencies and prevent undocumented residents from seeking life-saving treatment," according to the AP/Salt Lake Tribune. Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he should not be forced to prove his citizenship to receive emergency care (Abrams, AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 5/19). Menendez added that the legislation is "a fiscally irresponsible, unsafe and discriminatory bill that is only on the House floor due to a back-room deal that was reached late at night to gain passage of the Republican Medicare prescription drug bill" (CQ Today, 5/18). C. Duane Dauner, president of the California Healthcare Association, said, "Nurses and doctors are in the business of saving lives, not acting as agents for the border patrol" (Collins, Los Angeles Times, 5/19). The bill's supporters said the hospital industry was more interested in keeping Medicare payments than solving the "root problem" of undocumented immigration, the Chronicle reports. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, Rohrabacher said "rich corporations in the chamber" were just looking to profit. "They don't have to provide health insurance anymore because all these illegals are willing to work (without it) anyway," Rohrabacher said. "If we know that an illegal alien is in the United States -- especially one that is consuming resources that are taking health care resources away from our people -- they should be deported," he said (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/19). Rohrabacher added, "The American taxpayer ... may rest assured that this legislation will live to fight another day" (Black, Houston Chronicle, 5/19)
KQED's "The California Report" on Tuesday reported on HR 3722. The segment includes comments from James Lott, executive vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California; Rohrabacher; and an advocate for immigrants' rights (Cohen, "The California Report," KQED, 5/18). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.