By Joe Guzzardi
July 22, 2011
A few years ago, I had the misfortune to have been rushed to an overcrowded Sacramento emergency room. During my lengthy hospital stay, I befriended my doctors. One day, talking to an intern about the high costs associated with hospital care for illegal immigrants, the doctor said: “The reason you pay so much for your health insurance premiums is because they pay nothing.”
In its recent press release, the California Hospital Association (CHA) confirmed that illegal aliens cost hospitals statewide about $1.25 billion a year for non-reimbursed care. Under the terms of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, Medicaid-participating hospitals are legally obligated to screen, treat and diagnose patients regardless of their immigration status.
According to American Hospital Association President and CEO Richard Umbdenstock “federal support for hospitals providing these services to the undocumented population is virtually nonexistent. Many hospitals have had to curtail services, delay implementing services or close beds.”
Unfunded alien health care is a huge problem not only in California but also nationwide. During the last decade, nearly 100 California hospitals closed their doors because illegal alien treatment costs made it impossible to meet other overhead. During the same period, an additional 77 hospitals in the Southwestern United States filed for bankruptcy.
Hospitals that struggle to remain open must, as noted by my intern friend, pass the unpaid costs onto the rest of us which means premiums to rise.
Several years ago, the General Accounting Office traveled to Arizona to study the impact of mandatory health care provided for illegal immigrants. The GAO’s findings: three hospitals located in Cochise County alone funded more than $1 million in alien uncompensated health care costs. In larger cities like Tucson and Phoenix, the bill was three times as high.
At the other end of the country, the Florida Hospital Association reported that local hospitals recently wrote off $100 million in unpaid medical bills run up by illegal aliens that taxpayers will eventually have to absorb.
Ironically, Arizona and Florida currently project $3 billion budget deficits while California, after running over $20 billion in the hole for several years, now foresees a $15 billion shortfall.
Umbdenstock, in a letter to President Obama, begged for reimbursement for his organization’s members. Wrote Umbdenstock: “Hospitals should not have to bear the burden.”
Neither should taxpayers. American taxpayers fund more than $1,100 in health care every year for each of the nearly eight million Mexican immigrants in the United States who are uninsured or on Medicaid. Mexico has the United States’ largest immigrant population.
Given Obama’s known sympathy for illegal immigration, Umbdenstock is unlikely to persuade him. In fact, although Congressional Democrats deny it, there’s a strong probability that aliens will be included under the final Obamacare legislation.
Alien health insurance, basically a free pass for unlimited services, is particularly galling to the 50 million Americans without it. Joblessness and surging premiums make insurance further out of reach every day for those who don’t already have it.
Where’s the fairness?
Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1986. He is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. Contact him at [email protected].