Arizona Republic Examines Issues Surrounding Medical Care for Uninsured, Undocumented Immigrants
The Arizona Republic on Monday examined a case of a Phoenix hospital spending nearly $500,000 to treat an uninsured, undocumented female immigrant who had a car accident that caused severe trauma. After treating the woman, St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center officials knew that she required long-term care but also knew that no long-term care treatment center would accept her because of her residency and insurance status. As a result, the woman was transported back to Mexico.
The case highlights "what happens when uninsured [undocumented] immigrants need medical care" -- a "problem that costs American hospitals and taxpayers millions of dollars each year," the Republic reports. By law, hospitals must administer emergency care to patients until they are deemed healthy enough to be discharged, regardless of their immigration status, according to the Republic.
It is unclear what it costs the U.S. to treat uninsured, undocumented immigrants, in part because hospitals do not ask patients about their immigration status, according to a 2004 Government Accountability Office report. A study by the Border Counties Coalition found that undocumented immigrants accounted for an estimated $200 million of the $845 million in hospital charity care along the U.S.-Mexican border in 2002. St. Joseph's spent $17 million on charity care in 2007, according to the Republic. "The cost is a serious burden for hospitals in border states," and some "have had to cut back on other services," the Republic reports.
Lobbyists for hospitals are working to renew a program that allocates $250 million annually for hospitals treating undocumented immigrants. The program, which only covers the first two to three days of care, is set to expire at the end of 2008 (Hawley, Arizona Republic, 3/17).