U.S. Hospitals on Mexican Border Struggle to Provide Care for Undocumented Immigrants
American hospitals along the Mexico-United States border are being forced to absorb millions of dollars in costs for treating undocumented immigrants who become ill or injure themselves attempting to cross the border, the Washington Times reports. Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, hospitals and ambulance services must offer care to "anyone needing emergency treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay." The Times reports that 16 border hospitals recently monitored the cost of treating indigent and uninsured foreign nationals during a three-month period and found that the total reached $44 million in uncompensated care. James Dickson, head of the Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, Ariz., said the problem is creating a "tragic and contentious situation" for hospitals. At a House Government Reform Committee subcommittee hearing last week, Dickson said that costs for "Border Patrol apprehensions" -- in which INS officers take injured or sick undocumented immigrants to area hospitals for treatment without "officially" taking them into custody, avoiding legal obligation to pay for their care -- and "compassionate entry trauma" have increased 400% in the last four years. The Times reports that Arizona hospitals are "particularly affected" by the phenomenon, and it is "increasingly affect[ing]" other states. Sheri Jordan, Arizona Hospital and Health Care Association senior policy director, said, "Here you have a population that is not supposed to be here, that urgently needs care -- which must be given -- and no one will pay for it. The situation may be worst in Arizona, but it impacts New Mexico, California, Texas -- even Illinois, New York, Iowa and other states far from the border."
To address the situation, Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) have proposed legislation that calls on HHS to establish a five-year pilot program that would reimburse hospitals and ambulance services for emergency treatment provided to foreign nationals who are in the country without documentation or who are waived into the country to receive care that is not available at Mexican border facilities (Gribbin, Washington Times, 3/18). At a recent Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Kolbe said, "The federal government cannot require hospitals to provide emergency care to illegal immigrants who are injured in the process of crossing the border and not reimburse these hospitals" (Kolbe release, 3/7).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.