Friday, August 29, 2008

The Feds, Health Care, and Illegals

Although we're known more for championing transparency in health care and rallying against socialized medicine, I hadn't realized that we've also written quite a bit about illegal immigration's drain on our health care system:
Some are contractors who sue the citizen who hired them.
Some are quadriplegics left unattended and unwanted, with little hope and no resources.
Some are cancer patients who cost Texas taxpayers some $12 million.
Regardless, we all pay for them via increased taxes and higher insurance premiums. And the tab keeps getting higher. In fact, in the story referneced directly above, we learned that at least one Texas hospital planned to curtail cancer treatments to illegal immigrants.
In nearby Arizona, "Tucson-area hospitals estimate that providing emergency care for illegal immigrants has cost them more than $66 million since 2005;" The good news (such as it is) is that the Federal government (you know, thee and me) repaid them about a quarter of that. Since 2005, Medicare has been matching a certain percentage of expenses that hospitals incur under EMTALA, in order to offset those costs.
But that gravy train appears to have come to a grinding halt:
"(O)n Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal 2009 fiscal year...the reimbursement program ends."
Even under the reimbursement program, "local hospitals try to send illegal immigrants who need expensive or long-term care back to their country of origin." Not a bad idea (cf: "Schengen Convention"), but it doesn't always work: if we don't know who someone really is, how do we know their country of origin? And of course, there are those who are too ill to be transported. But health care costs money, which has to come from somewhere. Unsurprisingly, you and I foot a lot of that bill:
"Under Section 1011 of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, the government designated $250 million a year to be divided among the 50 states for emergency care of illegal immigrants. Arizona received $44.5 million in fiscal year 2007."
On the one hand, that's a lot (our) money; on the other, it gets spent awfully fast. And, as previously noted, that program goes away in another month or so, leaving hospitals scrambling to figure out their next move. Of course, a new congress could renew (or reinstate) the program, letting the hospitals off the hook for at least some expenses, for a while. The question, of course, is how much money we're willing to throw at the problem.
Time will tell.
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