House To Vote on Bill Concerning Doctors’ Reporting of Undocumented Immigrants
A bill (HR 3722) that would require emergency department physicians to report and in some cases fingerprint undocumented immigrants that they treat could come up for a vote in the House as early as this week, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 5/10). Under the legislation, 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 status, address and employer 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. In the case of illegal immigrant status, the department would have to initiate deportation proceedings against the patient. In addition, the bill would require employers who hire undocumented immigrants to cover the cost of their unreimbursed ED care (California Healthline, 1/26). Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) drafted the bill in response to a provision in the new Medicare law that provided $1 billion over four years to reimburse hospitals for treating undocumented immigrants (Bustos/Carroll, Arizona Republic, 5/11). In a May 4 letter to other House members urging their support of the bill, Rohrabacher said, "Senior citizens in particular are unhappy that Congress is diverting precious resources from the Medicare drug bill to the care" of undocumented immigrants. Rohrabacher spokesperson Aaron Lewis on Monday said that the bill would not burden hospitals because doctors and nurses already are required to report certain information to authorities, such as gunshot wounds and domestic violence. He added, "Once word spreads across the globe ... there's going to be a dropoff of people who arrive from foreign countries just to get treated for something and then leave, and leave the taxpayers with the bill."
Opponents of the bill, including hospital associations and immigration advocates, attacked the measure on Monday, saying it would be "practically unenforceable" because it does not specify how hospitals should determine whether a patient is an undocumented immigrant, according to CQ Today (CQ Today, 5/10). The measure would "turn hospitals into de facto immigration agents" and would create a public health threat by discouraging undocumented immigrants from seeking treatment for problems such as communicable diseases, Carla Luggiero, a senior lobbyist with the American Hospital Association, said. Eliseo Medina, vice president of the Service Employees International Union, said the bill was "meanspirited," adding, "If doctors and nurses are going to be required to enforce immigration law, then how are they supposed to treat patients?" The Republic reports that the bill "stands a slim chance of passing" in the House (Arizona Republic, 5/11). It also faces "long odds in the Senate," according to CQ Today (CQ Today, 5/10).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.