Congressman Says Hospitals Burdened by 'Parasitic Effects' of Illegal Immigration

By Jessica Cantelon | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - As Congress considers a reorganization of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, some members are also taking a closer look at the cost of illegal immigration, especially to the nation's hospitals.

"We basically want to know ... how much these hospitals are being hit ... and what are their recommendations [as to] what we should do," Chris Paulitz, a spokesperson for Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida), told "It's just hard for these hospitals to keep staying afloat with this, especially in our area in Florida."

In a recent letter to U.S. Comptroller General David Walker of the General Accounting Office (GAO), Foley acknowledged the legal and moral responsibility of hospitals not to turn anyone away, but expressed concern over the financial burden imposed as "hospitals are inundated with thousands of illegal immigrants seeking medical care."

"We need to remedy this problem before we can no longer afford to take care of Americans," Foley said. "The parasitic effects on our health care system must be inoculated immediately.

"The world must realize that, while we gladly accept its tired, poor and huddled masses, we also have rules that govern their entrance," he explained. "We must make clear that these rules apply to both foreign nations and its citizens."

Foley stated in an op-ed earlier this year that the U.S. "should not be burdened because of the failure of a foreign nation to maintain responsibility for its people." He is now asking the GAO to make recommendations on possible solutions for alleviating this problem.

But Tanya Broder, staff attorney and policy analyst for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), disagreed with Foley's actions.

"The cost of treating an undocumented person isn't different from the cost of treating another uninsured adult," she stated. "The only issue is that our federal government is excluding some persons from public health coverage because of their immigration status.

"Claiming that the solution to uncompensated care is getting rid of undocumented immigrants ignores the fact that a growing number of citizens and lawfully present immigrants do not have access to health care," Broder added. "We need to reexamine how we care for the uninsured throughout our health care delivery system."

However, David Ray, a spokesperson at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said American taxpayers, not illegal immigrants, are the ones suffering discrimination.

"The only person getting the short end of the stick in this whole bargain is the taxpayer and disadvantaged Americans who rely on public health centers to stay alive," said Ray, pointing out that illegal aliens "are showing up for free health care and then going home." If a U.S. citizen tries to do that, Ray said, the hospitals would "find ways of extracting payment from you, by hook or by crook."

The American Hospital Association (AHA) has a system that keeps track of general uncompensated care, defined as the "estimated cost of bad debt and charity care to the hospital." According to the AHA's records, the national uncompensated care cost in 2000 was $21.6 billion or six percent of total expenses.

Ray pointed out that the Federation for American Immigration Reform's estimate of the national cost incurred by illegal aliens for Medicare and Medicaid is $3.7 billion.

"It's an enormous cost and can be very crippling, especially in border-states," Ray explained. "The federal government is the one that's dropping the ball in allowing poor immigration enforcement to [negatively affect] the state's pocketbooks."

Cecilia Munoz, a policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, calls efforts to change immigration at the health care level "unrealistic" and said "focusing on what happens in hospitals is not going to provide immigration reform."

To Ray, however, even if Foley's efforts don't alleviate the problems in Florida, "it's always useful to remind us [of] all the enormous costs associated with illegal immigration."

E-mail a news tip to Jessica Cantelon.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.