Reductions In Hospital Payments Could Undermine Health Care For Undocumented Immigrants

All hospitals in the U.S. are legally obligated to provide for anyone seeking emergency care, and the federal government spends billions annually to reimburse hospitals that treat the uninsured. Unfortunately, as the New York Times points out, the amount of federal aid to these hospitals — many of which are in poor areas of the country — will significantly drop as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, and undocumented immigrants could find it more difficult to access affordable care as a result:

The federal government has been spending $20 billion annually to reimburse these hospitals — most in poor urban and rural areas — for treating more than their share of the uninsured, including illegal immigrants. The health care law will eventually cut that money in half, based on the premise that fewer people will lack insurance after the law takes effect.

But the estimated 11 million people now living illegally in the United States are not covered by the health care law. Its sponsors, seeking to sidestep the contentious debate over immigration, excluded them from the law’s benefits.

As a result, so-called safety-net hospitals said the cuts would deal a severe blow to their finances.

In other words, because the mandate is meant to increase the number of people insured, the federal government estimates that hospitals won’t have to cover as many uninsured seeking emergency care. As a result, hospital budgets are put under strain as they lose money but must continue to provide care for the uninsured.

For some hospitals, nearly 50 percent of the patients they treat are undocumented.

The New York Times notes that the sponsors of the Affordable Care Act largely sidestepped the immigration issue in an effort to avoid the conversation. Alan Aviles, president and chief executive of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, said that “it is a difficult time to really advocate around this issue, because there is so much antipathy against new immigrants.”

Nina Liss-Schultz