Hospitals To Obama: Extend Health Insurance To Undocumented Immigrants

The American Hospital Association has written a letter urging President Obama to extend health care coverage to undocumented immigrants, noting that “hospitals shoulder a disproportionate burden” in providing emergency services to the community:

Hospitals shoulder a disproportionate burden in providing EMTALA-mandated emergency services to undocumented immigrants. And, in those communities where the number of undocumented immigrants is greatest, the strain has reached the breaking point. In response, many hospitals have had to curtail services, delay implementing services, or close beds. The most recent statistics shows that America’s hospitals provided nearly $40 billion in uncompensated care in 2009.

In today’s unpredictable environment, hospitals need adequate reimbursement to ensure that our patients – both documented and undocumented – and the communities we serve receive the care they expect and deserve. Hospitals should not have to bear the burden of uncompensated care for undocumented immigrants.

While some conservatives have suggested barring immigrants from accessing medical assistance — including emergency care — hospitals themselves think the solution is just the opposite. A health care policy that excludes undocumented workers will never fully control health care spending, fulfill the moral obligations of society, or get to true universal coverage. The fact is that extending access to preventive services and other primary care needs would likely go a long way to reducing emergency care use and the costs of uncompensated care.

Generally, immigrants tend to be healthier than U.S. citizens, use less medical care, use less expensive care, and do not impose a disproportionate financial burden on the US health care system. For instance, per capita total health expenditures of immigrants were 55 percent lower than those of U.S. born persons. “Even after controlling for the effects of race, ethnicity, income, insurance status and health status, immigrants are much less likely to use primary and preventive medical hospital emergency and dental services than citizens,” a recent report found.