Washington Post Examines Administration Abandonment of Policy on Immigration Status Inquiries
The Washington Post on Tuesday examined action by HHS officials to back off plans that would have required hospitals to ask patients about their immigration status as part of a four-year $1 billion program designed to provide new funds to hospitals for providing uncompensated care (Sheridan, Washington Post, 10/5). Under a program, announced by CMS officials in July, the government will offer U.S. hospitals $1 billion over four years to pay for the emergency care of uninsured patients, regardless of their citizenship status. The government will distribute two-thirds of the funds among all states, and states with the largest number of undocumented immigrants will receive the remainder.
The program's funding was included in the Medicare law passed last year. Through the program, the government aims to determine the number of undocumented immigrants who receive treatment from U.S. hospitals and ambulance services (California Healthline, 10/4). The program's funding became available Friday (Washington Post, 10/5).
Initially, CMS planned to require participating hospitals to ask uninsured patients whether they are U.S. citizens; lawful permanent residents; immigrants with valid, current employment authorization cards; students, tourists or business travelers with nonimmigrant visas; or foreign citizens with 72-hour border crossing cards. However, after the program was criticized by U.S. hospitals and immigrant advocacy groups, which said that requiring staff to report patients' immigration status would deter immigrants from seeking necessary care, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan on Friday sent a letter to hospital and advocacy groups saying that the agency would determine hospitals' eligibility for the new funds in other ways (California Healthline, 10/4).
In a letter to the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, McClellan said he agreed with criticism that "nonburdensome" eligibility methods should be used, adding that "providers will not be asked -- and should not ask -- about a patients' citizenship status in order to receive payment under this program" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat News, 10/4).
Although hospitals praised the policy change, some politicians and advocacy groups seeking a reduction in immigration criticized the move, saying that such a policy would protect undocumented immigrants at the expense of the American people. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said, "You've got the hospitals watching out for the illegal immigrants and the administration going along with it. Who's watching out for the American people?"
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies added, "The real solution is stopping illegal immigration -- not letting it happen, then trying to clean up the mess afterwards" (Washington Post, 10/5).