LOS ANGELES – This is part three of a five-part series looking at how illegal immigration affects U.S. border security, the criminal, health care and education systems, as well as the economy. Watch the series this week on FOX News Channel.
Overburdened by the uninsured and overwhelmed by illegal immigration (search), public health care in Los Angeles is on life support.
Sixty percent of the county's uninsured patients are not U.S. citizens. More than half are here illegally. About 2 million undocumented aliens in Los Angeles County alone are crowding emergency rooms because they can't afford to see a doctor.
According to the State Association of Hospitals (search), California's public health system is "on the brink of collapse." In Los Angeles County, patients can wait four days for a hospital bed and up to two years for gallbladder surgery.
"The hospitals are closing because of the totality of the uninsured," said Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, director of the Los Angeles County Health Department (search). "If you're legally a resident in California and you're poor, you have a right to basic services."
But some critics say the taxpayers can't be the HMO (search) to the world. Last year, Los Angeles County spent $340 million to treat the uninsured; that's roughly $1,000 for every taxpayer.
"We're citizens here. Why should somebody from another country that's here illegally get anything that we can't get? I mean that's dumb, that's not right," said Don Schenck, whose son, Bill, is mentally disabled.
Though the Schencks are uninsured, and considered poor by county standards, his father had to find a way to pay for his Bill's care while thousands of others, in the country illegally, get it for free.
"It makes you feel pretty bad when you're born in that country and you're handicapped and you've got a learning disability and you can't get medical," Schenck said.
Mike Antonovich, the Los Angeles County supervisor, said the system has been "basically bankrupted."
The Department of Health has a $1.2 billion deficit. Caring for illegals is siphoning money from other services and forcing clinics, trauma centers and emergency rooms to close, he said.
"We cannot afford to have a open-door policy to encourage illegals to continue to come here and receive all the medical care, because it's too expensive," he said.
Immigrants like Yolanda Hernandez, however, argue that if there were cheap insurance plans available to her community, people would buy them.
"[Americans] have enough money to pay for insurance," she said. "They make good money and are educated. Unfortunately, we are not."
The fourth installment of this series focuses on how border states are dealing with educating Mexican immigrants and the strain it's putting on California's education system. Look for it on FOX News and FOX News.com.
Click on the video box above for a complete report by FOX News' William LaJeunesse.