Thursday, August 12, 2004

Hospitals say federal immigration reimbursement might not be worth it

"Congress has approved $1 billion in federal funds to reimburse hospitals across the country in the next four years for emergency care provided to illegal immigrants."

"'The big issue is, in order to get these dollars, do we have to be policemen and report these individuals?' asked Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association. 'We don't believe it's our role to determine if someone is in this country legally or illegally. It's our role to take care of the patient.'"

"The CEO of Bedford County Medical Center in Shelbyville is giving consideration to the new policy. Bill Macri says his hospital spends $3 million a year to cover the costs of patients who can't pay."

"Although the hospital never asks anyone's immigration status, Macri assumes that there are illegal immigrants among the non-paying patients whom emergency room doctors treat every day. It's a fact of life in places like Shelbyville, where thousands of Hispanic workers have flocked in recent years to work in meat-packing plants, factories and on farms."

"'It would be nice to have some subsidy,' Macri said. But requiring staff to ask patients questions about their immigration status in the emergency room 'puts a significant burden on us,' adding to overworked medical personnel's jobs."

"Ultimately, he said, sick people might forgo treatment altogether."

"Tennessee's allocation is based on Department of Homeland Security's estimates of the state's undocumented immigrant population. Tennessee, with an estimated 46,000, stands to get $1.1 million each year between 2005 and 2008. California will get the largest share: $72 million each year for the estimated 2.2 million illegal immigrants in the state."

The Tennessean

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