Uncompensated Hospital Care for Undocumented Immigrants in Four Border States Cost $200M in 2000, Study Finds
Undocumented immigrants cost hospitals in the four U.S. states on the Mexican border over $200 million in uncompensated care in 2000, according to a study released yesterday, the Washington Times reports (Seper, Washington Times, 9/27). The study, commissioned by the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition, a committee of elected officials from 24 border counties, and conducted by Florida-based consulting firm MGT of America, examined 77 hospitals in border counties in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas (Bustos/Carroll, Gannet/Tucson Citizen/Arizona Republic, 9/26). According to the study, in 2000 California lost $79.6 million in care for undocumented immigrants, Texas lost $74 million, Arizona lost $30 million and New Mexico lost almost $6 million. The study also found that ambulance providers in the four states lost $13 million, Cox/Contra Costa Times reports (Malone, Cox/Contra Costa Times, 9/27). The study examined only the cost of emergency room services; if it had included ambulance fees, emergency room physician fees or follow-up care, the cost to the hospitals would have been around $300 million (Gannett/Tucson Citizen/Arizona Republic, 9/26). The study also found that almost 25% of uncompensated care at border hospitals comes from emergency services provided for undocumented immigrants and that a "majority of the cases" concerned undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States but do not have health insurance (Cox/Contra Costa Times, 9/27). Researchers noted that "reliable data are impossible to obtain" because of a 1996 federal law that requires hospitals to treat undocumented immigrants and precludes hospitals from inquiring about patients' immigrant status (Gannet/Tucson Citizen/Arizona Republic, 9/26).
Several border-state members of Congress yesterday introduced a bill, the Local Emergency Health Services Reimbursement Act of 2002, that calls for $200 million in federal funds annually for the next four years for "states, localities, hospitals and others that provide federally required, but uncompensated-for, emergency health treatment to undocumented aliens," according to a release from bill sponsor Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) (McClain, Arizona Daily Star, 9/27). Under the bill, the 17 states with the most undocumented immigrants would share $134 million and the six states with the most apprehensions of undocumented immigrants would share $66 million, the Washington Times reports. "No one denies that there is a moral and legal obligation to provide care, but the question remains on who is responsible for paying the bill," Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) said. "The obligation here falls on the federal government," Sen. John. McCain (R-Ariz.) said, adding, "The states do not control the border, the federal government does and it has failed to do so -- causing a financial and human crisis" (Washington Times, 9/27).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.