John David Powell
News By Us

July 26, 2009

The civil case against a Florida hospital draws to a close this week. A relative of an illegal alien sued Martin Memorial Medical Center when it repatriated the man after treating him for nearly three years at an un-reimbursed cost of $1.5 million.  The relative/legal guardian wants an unspecified six-figure judgment for alleged false imprisonment and nearly $1 million in economic damages for the medical care he has not received since 2003.  That’s when Martin Memorial paid $30,000 to charter a jet to take Luis Jimenez to a medical facility in Guatemala.  Jimenez now lives with his mother.

Carol Plato, the director of corporate business services for Martin Memorial in Stuart, says Jimenez is an example of what happens when hospitals treat illegal immigrants.  Martin Memorial also is treating an illegal Mexican immigrant for severe brain damage.  The man has no family in this country.  He’s cost Martin Memorial about $1.5 million over the past two years.  Plato says Martin Memorial has contacted the Mexican consulate and the U.S. government about returning the man to Mexico, but no one’s helping.

In addition to this patient, Plato says six illegal immigrants use Martin Memorial three days a week for dialysis with no reimbursement because of their status.


Listen closely, but you’ll be hard-pressed to hear anyone in Washington, from the White House to Capitol Hill, placing medical coverage for illegal immigrants as a priority in the healthcare debate.  They don’t want to address it seriously, because then they’d have to find a solution to the overall problem of illegal immigration.

Uncompensated costs to hospitals and other healthcare providers run into the billions of dollars annually.  The Florida Hospital Association estimates that in 2007, treatment for illegal immigrant patients cost $100 million. A 2004 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform put California’s annual cost at $1.4 billion.

States bordering Mexico take the biggest hits.  A study by the United States/Mexico Border Counties Coalition found that hospitals serving the 24 U.S. counties along the border ate $190 million in the year 2000. 

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires all emergency departments to treat all persons coming in seeking medical care, regardless of residency status or ability to pay.  Hospitals cannot legally ask residency status of patients, which thwarts attempts to determine accurately the scope of the situation. 

A few years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office looked for available federal funding to help hospitals offset the costs of treating illegal immigrants.  GAO surveyed 503 hospitals and interviewed Medicaid and Medicare officials in ten states, only to determine that an accurate assessment of these uncompensated costs “remains elusive.”

Conservative estimates place the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. as high as 10 million.  Nearly 60 percent of the illegals do not have health insurance, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.  That means 40 percent have health insurance, mostly provided by their employers.  If that’s the case, then around 4 million illegal immigrants receive health coverage because they’ve supplied their employers with false or stolen Social Security numbers.

Here in Texas, the state and local hospital districts spent about $677 million on uncompensated health care for illegals in FY 05, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.  The Harris County Hospital District provided $203.5 million in uncompensated care, according to the study, which hospital district administrators say is twice what they really lost.  The study, however, did not include figures from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, which lost $140 million a year, according to published reports.

“Last year, 6,540 visits from undocumented immigrants cost Parkland Hospital System in Dallas $7 million, and Memorial Hermann in Houston incurred over $4 million in cost for their care,” says Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).  “Hospitals in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and other states have drawn 100 percent of the available federal aid to help defray the costs associated with providing care for illegal immigrants.”

Unless Congress comes up with a way to fix the illegal immigration problem, the continued strain on the healthcare system by undocumented individuals will cut into any cost savings of a universal healthcare plan.

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