IBDeditorial: Paying The Price For Illegal Care

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care: Democrats are right that uncompensated emergency care for the uninsured is driving up costs. What they don’t say is it’s illegal immigrants who are bankrupting ERs, and the federal government is encouraging them.

Last decade, the Clinton administration added teeth to a little-known Health and Human Services Department regulation mandating that hospitals provide emergency treatment even to illegals.

Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA, hospitals can’t even ask for a patient’s immigration status or ability to pay prior to delivering treatment. They also can’t keep such uninsured patients waiting, even if their problem isn’t an emergency. Nor can they discharge them until they’re fully stabilized and have safe transportation.

More, hospitals must post EMTALA signs in Spanish and English. The law isn’t limited to ERs. Hospitals must accept illegals at any facility on campus — including outpatient clinics and doctor’s offices — located within 250 yards of the main buildings.

Hospitals end up treating uninsured illegals for the sniffles and other nonurgent care, and pass that exorbitant cost on to the insured, the Government Accountability Office has found. Resulting overcrowding leads to delays in “care for patients with true emergency needs.”

This unfunded federal mandate has placed a heavy and unfair financial burden on more than 1,500 hospitals across the country, according to HHS data, costing billions in unpaid bills by some estimates.

Many eat losses and eventually go out of business like they’re doing in droves in California, which has seen 85 hospital closures in the last decade. An additional 55 facilities have shut down ERs. The state ranks last in the country in access to emergency care and last in ERs per capita, making it woefully unprepared to respond to a major earthquake or terror attack.

Border hospitals are the hardest-hit. By law, they have to treat even illegals injured while crossing the border. Each year, hundreds of them pour into the ER at El Centro Regional Medical Center near San Diego with fractures sustained while climbing the fence or eluding border patrols in high-speed car chases. Others suffer from multiple organ failures from dehydration…

The entire editorial is at The Price of Health Care

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