Texas County Prosecutor Drops Investigation of Public Hospital Care to Undocumented Immigrants
The district attorney of a Texas county has suspended his investigation into the county hospital's practice of providing free nonemergency care to undocumented immigrants, the Houston Chronicle reports. But the probe will remain "in limbo" until officials from the Harris County Hospital District implement an "everybody pays" billing policy that would require all undocumented immigrants who currently receive free care at the hospital to pay for some portion of the treatment, County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said yesterday. He added, "I'm going to wait to see what they do. They're in the process of seeing that everybody is billed something. Eventually, if that takes place, it could take us out of the area where there are questions about abuse or misapplication of fiduciary responsibilities." Rosenthal initiated the investigation after Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (R) issued an opinion in July stating that the 1996 federal welfare reform law prohibits public hospitals from providing most types of health services to undocumented immigrants. Discussions about an "everybody pays" policy at the Harris County Hospital District first began last year, when John Guest became hospital district president. Under such a policy, patients who now pay nothing for care would be required to contribute "something, even if it's just a few dollars." Hospital district officials would no longer put patients into groups according to those who cannot pay, those who can pay some and those who can pay all. Instead, officials would use a formula based on family size, income and poverty guidelines to decide charges. Guest said that the district may be able to implement the policy next year, adding that Rosenthal's decision to suspend his investigation "also may give district officials more time to get state and federal lawmakers to address the district's role in immigrant care." He added, "I certainly have no objections to showing prosecutors how 'everybody pays' will work" (Brewer, Houston Chronicle, 12/10).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.