Since Gov. Jan Brewer signed the draconian immigration bill into law, however, this may be less true in Arizona than anywhere else. In fact, at least one doctor is now speaking out against the measure on medical grounds, claiming that the law could deter undocumented immigrants from seeking treatment in hospitals or free clinics, endangering their own health and the well being of the broader community.
This afternoon, during a briefing on national health disparities at the National Press Club, Dr. Winston Wong — Medical Director of community benefit at Kaiser Permanente — argued that doctors have a professional obligation to oppose any measure that endangers the care of their patients and the public’s general health. During a brief phone interview with me following the event, Wong expanded on his thinking. While focusing on the physician’s responsibility towards treating all patients fairly and equally, Wong explained that discouraging portions of the population from seeking regular medical care would harm the individual patient and also potentially facilitate the spread of communicable conditions like the flu throughout the state. It could keep the children of undocumented immigrants from receiving critical immunizations or other prenatal and preventative services that maintain the health of that individual child and the broader population.
“That this kind of policy really causes a lot of weariness among the target population around which you’re trying to launch initiatives,” Wong explained. “If you think about how we as doctors care for patients with chronic disease, it requires a long term relationship.” “We need to open up communication, we don’t need to narrow them,” he said. Wong also expressed concern that the law prevent families with mixed legal statuses from seeking medical attention, since doctors often inquire about family background when prescribing treatments. “This whole issue with regards to individuals begin fearful that their immigration status would either be identified or scrutinized, even if they are legal, really puts a barrier towards improving and maintaining clinical care,” Wong told me.