Why immigration reform is good for health care

A day after a bipartisan group of senators outlined an immigration reform package, President Obama urged Congress to act declaring “the time is now,” during a speech Tuesday at a Las Vegas high school.

I have to say, I agree with the president that it’s about time we pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Now, I understand immigration reform is a controversial topic, igniting a passionate debate that has lasted for years. And I am certainly not qualified to suggest any detail of how this should be accomplished.

However, as a practicing doctor and director of a major university medical center, comprehensive immigration reform in America would be good for health care in general.
Why do I say it’s good for health care? I’ll give you several reasons.

Many undocumented immigrants who are living in this country fear seeking out early or preventative medical treatments because of their legal status. This, of course, leads to overcrowding in American emergency rooms, and patients arriving with serious complications that are much more costly to our health care system than treating the primary health issue. But even worse, is the fact that waiting to seek medical treatment can lead to complications that can be detrimental to a patients’ health.

Often, illegal immigrants also rely on the services of what I like to call “underground clinics.” These medical practices are sometimes unlicensed and run by individuals that may have limited training or have only practiced medicine in other countries – putting patients at risk for serious complications.

Having medications sent from their respective countries is another way some illegal immigrants deal with their health care – or lack thereof – in the United States. I’ve seen it in my own practice; patients self-medicating without knowing what the consequences and potential side effects could be.

And in my particular field of obstetrics – I’ve seen many pregnant women that come to this country illegally when it’s time to give birth, without having received any prenatal care throughout their pregnancy.

The financial burden illegal immigration has posed on the American health care system has been a chronic social problem for decades. Studies estimate that the 11 million people that fall into this population cost federal and state governments more than $10 billion a year in health care expenditures.

So, while I can’t say how the immigration reform package should be laid out, I am glad that we’re finally addressing it head-on. We’ve been on an unsustainable path for years, and we’ve run out of time.