How illegal immigrants don’t fit into Obama’s healthcare plan
By Katherine Rausch
On April 10, more than a thousand people gathered at the University of Texas in El Paso to march in support of illegal immigrants and their rights. The crowd marched through the streets chanting “Obama, eschucha estamos en la lucha.” “Obama, listen to us in the fight.” The group wanted to raise awareness about the illegal immigrant issue and remind people that President Obama did not address it in his first year, as he originally promised.
Just mention the words “illegal immigrant” and a debate will ensue. Now with Obama’s health care reform plan passed and illegal immigrants barred from any benefits, the controversy continues.
The new health care bill states that illegal immigrants cannot buy health insurance, even if they pay completely out of pocket. Yet the plan states that all citizens must purchase insurance. What does this mean? The estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States will not have coverage, compared to the 6 million who currently do not have insurance. So 5 million more people in the United States will be refused health insurance, even though they are “supposed” to have it.
The original plan in the White House was to create a system with universal health coverage, similar to other programs in developed countries like the United Kingdom and Canada. However, the new bill does not address the current health care problems. Illegal immigrants sit in emergency rooms all the time, where they cannot be turned away, in order to get treatment. The hospitals then create hidden fees and try to use Emergency Medicaid to pay the bills. The new health care plan does not take these issues into consideration.
Since April 2009, the University Medical Center Hospital in Las Vegas has provided emergency dialysis to 80 illegal immigrants. It costs the hospital about $2 million a month. It is a huge drain on the hospital. UMC, a public hospital that only does emergent dialysis, performs a couple hundred procedures a year, costing tens of millions of dollars. Illegal immigrants go there for dialysis because, legally and morally, they cannot be turned away.
“They were very grateful for the service provided,” said Rick Plummer, a UMC spokesperson. “We literally save their lives once or twice a week. They have nowhere else to go.”
For Marta Berrera, a mother of four, this dialysis helped her failing kidneys keep working. She was grateful to the hospital for aiding her because she was an illegal immigrant. Many people are concerned though because the money to pay for illegal immigrants’ treatment in hospitals falls into the hands of U.S. citizens. In Clark County, NV, taxes went up to pay UMC’s bills. With the new bill, these problems will just continue.
Illegal immigrants don’t just struggle to get dialysis when they need it. They also struggle with other aspects of health care, like medication. In order to get a prescription, most people just go to their primary physician or a specialist. However, with the new bill illegal immigrants will only be able to go to the emergency room or free clinics.
“We can’t discharge them if they don’t have means to get medication,” Plummer said. “We actually fill it in our pharmacy.”
Illegal immigrants fill emergency rooms in public hospitals, like UMC, because they know that is the only way they can obtain everyday prescriptions. Also, based on the law, these hospitals must provide the necessary treatment, whether it is dialysis or medication, to their patients. There is no way to prevent these people from getting the necessary care.
“You’re still going to have the gap,” Plummer said about the new bill. “[Illegal immigrants] are still going to be using these services… You can’t have health care reform without looking at illegal immigrant reform and insurance reform.”
Plummer said that UMC has looked at the effects of the new bill. It will help the hospital at first, because the government will give the public hospital extra money. However, over the years, that government aid will decrease, based on the law, and the hospital will be back where it was before. UMC is already struggling financially.
“People think it will help hospitals like UMC,” Plummer said. “I think that’s a myth. I think it needs a little more work if it’s going to have its intended goal.”
So do I think illegal immigrants should receive health insurance? In the new bill, yes, but the answer is not that simple. Through the new health care bill, illegal immigrants cannot pay for insurance out of pocket. There is no easy answer and it is hard to know what the best course of action is to lower costs and increase coverage. One thing is for sure: the new bill will not improve the health care of the United States’ illegal immigrants.
Katherine Rausch is a senior journalism major that thinks universal health care should also cover extraterrestrials. E-mail her at [email protected].