Medicaid Helps Hospitals Pay For Undocumented Immigrant’s Care
By Pierre Mouchette | Bits-n-Pieces
Federal law bars illegal immigrants from being covered by Medicaid. But a little-known part of the state-federal health-care insurance program for the poor pays (about $2 billion a year) for emergency treatment to a group of patients who, according to hospitals, are mostly comprised of illegal immigrants.
According to hospital officials and research, the lion’s share reimburses hospitals for delivering babies to women who show up in their emergency rooms. The funding, which has been around since the late 1980s, underlines the political and practical challenges of refusing to cover a whole class of people. Congress approved the program after legislators required hospitals to screen and stabilize all emergency patients regardless of their insurance or citizenship status. Hospitals cannot ask patients whether they are illegal immigrants but will determine that after checking whether they have Social Security numbers, birth certificates, or other documentation.
Some factions say these services encourage people to cross the border for care. While advocates say, the funding is inadequate because it does not pay for prenatal care and other vital services. The Federation for American Immigration Reform seeks to reduce immigration, stating that the funding directs more women into giving birth in the United States, especially since they know that children born here will be American citizens. The group believes that tens of thousands of anchor babies are born annually to illegal immigrants who hope that giving birth to children recognized as citizens will help them gain legal status themselves. Anyone born in the United States is a U.S. citizen. It is unclear how many mothers later get green cards or become citizens.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform does not dispute the hospitals’ right to be reimbursed for the care they have to provide. However, the focus should be that you could save this money if you prevent illegal immigration from happening in the first place.
Currently, California hospitals get about half the $2 billion spent annually on Emergency Medicaid. The remainder is spread among a handful of states. The federal government does not require the states to report how many people receive services through Emergency Medicaid payments to hospitals. Legal immigrants who have been in the United States for fewer than five years are not eligible for regular Medicaid coverage. However, states can extend it to children and pregnant women.
The very definition of emergency care and the scope of services available through the Medicaid programs vary by state. For example, in New York, Emergency Medicaid can be used to provide chemotherapy and radiation therapy to illegal immigrants. In New York, California, and North Carolina, it can be used to provide outpatient dialysis to undocumented patients. Other states have tried to narrow the definition of “emergency” to limit what’s covered.
Contact your state representatives if you want to input on this very delicate Medicaid question. Your voice counts, and Medicaid affects us all.