Are We Losing the Health Care War at the Border?

You bet. Recently I wrote a blog about the dangers the influx of illegal immigrants could pose to the health of the American public. Many people criticized me, and some even called me racist.

Well, I couldn't disagree more. First and foremost, I was simply stating the facts, and the data clearly show that public health policies in many parts of this country are broken and out of control. But aside from the spread of communicable diseases once eradicated in this country, there is the problem of overcrowding in emergency rooms and the budget deficit states are seeing from handing out medical care with no reimbursement.

So to back up my comments, I want to provide some examples of how illegal immigration and the influx of undocumented people to this country are having a detrimental effect on our health care system.

In April, 2003, Michael Janofsky wrote an article entitled "Burden Grows for Southwest Hospitals."Now this article was not published by a conservative media group, but by a very liberal newspaper you may be familiar with: The New York Times.

In his article, Janofsky explored the financial burden that hospitals in the Southwest - in Maricopa County, Arizona, to be specific - had been incurring due in large part to the flooding of U.S. emergency rooms by Mexican immigrants. One example he used was the story of Felipe Gomez, a 12-year-old resident of Sonora, Mexico, who was brought to Maricopa Medical Center after a tragic accident: burning ants with gasoline left him burned over 25 percent of his body. At the time the article was written, Felipe had incurred $55,000 in treatment and surgery in less than a month. Doctors projected that by the time he was released after having several other procedures to graft skin onto badly-burned areas of his body, the bill would total around $250,000.

The author went on to explain that this was just an example of the growing number of illegal immigrants coming to this country for medical treatment they could not get at home, but also could not pay for in the U.S. However, under federal law, hospitals are required to treat patients brought to their emergency rooms, no matter where they live. So you see, even in 2003, this was an issue that was beginning to impact hospitals: crowded emergency rooms, deficit budgets in hospitals and delays in equipment upgrades.

Other studies have suggested that the impact on state budgets from illegal immigration has created deficits that will take decades to be balanced. But this war on the survival of the health care system is not being fought only in border state hospitals. If you look at cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, a significant proportion of the uninsured being treated are part of the illegal immigration wave. As recently as 2009, one hospital in Las Vegas reportedfunding dialysis for 80 illegal immigrants at a cost of $2 million a month. Doctors at hospitals that are footing the bill for these kinds of treatments have expressed their concern over being financially strained by following the law to treat those who are breaking it.

In 2000, the American Hospital Association estimated that the 24 southernmost counties in the United States - from Texas to California - accumulated $832 million in unpaid medical care, with a quarter of that amount being directly attributed to illegal immigrants.

In 2002, Congress funded a study by the United States/Mexico Border Counties Coalition to figure out the price of uncompensated medical care in the 24 border counties most affected by illegal immigration. The report, called the "Medical Emergency: Who Pays the Price for Uncompensated Emergency Medical Care Along the Southwest Border?"found that in 2000, border hospitals spent more than $200 million to provide emergency health care to undocumented immigrants - $79 million in California, $74 million in Texas, $31 million in Arizona, and $6 million in New Mexico. And emergency transportation providers spent more than $13 million.

When President Obama started his proposal for health care reform, it seemed that every person in America would get some sort of health insurance. Of course, we now know that the approved health care legislation does not cover any illegal families living in this country, and honestly, even if it did, the money would still be coming out of the taxpayer's pocket - much as it is right now.

The final reality is that the American health care system - hospitals, nurses, doctors - will always carry the oath of healing the sick and preventing disease, no matter whom they treat. However, these same people we depend on for life-saving care are becoming victims in a war they're not suited to fight.