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Emergency Medical Costs Soar by Illegals

Emergency care costs for illegal immigrants soar


By Tony Pugh

As America counts the costs and consequences of illegal immigration, U.S. taxpayers are quietly footing a fast-growing multibillion-dollar tab for medical emergencies suffered by undocumented immigrants.

Whether they've entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas, illegal immigrants are ineligible for full coverage under Medicaid, the state/ federal health plan for low-income Americans. Enforcement of the law tightens today: Medicaid recipients will have to show proof of citizenship and identity.

However, a little-known federal law requires state Medicaid programs to pay for emergency medical care for all undocumented immigrants who meet the program's financial and personal resource requirements.

The provision is intended to ensure that no one in the United States is denied life-saving medical services. But those services are becoming more expensive as medical costs outpace inflation and uninsured illegal immigrants crowd the nation's emergency rooms.

Many are women giving birth. Others are people with chronic or mental illnesses, trauma victims or sick children.

The federal government generally pays about half the costs for such care under Medicaid, and states pick up the other half. But federal officials can't determine how much actually goes for the services, and many states don't closely track what they spend, either.

At the request of McClatchy Newspapers, some states took a closer look at the expenditures, which are a small but growing share of Medicaid's escalating costs. Even states with modest illegal immigrant populations have seen their costs soar. Minnesota's spending jumped 40 percent in two years, from $12.5 million in 2003 to $17.4 million in 2005. In Kentucky, the cost jumped to $9 million in 2005 from $2.2 million in 2003.

In California, home to possibly 40 percent of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, taxpayers have spent an average of $957 million a year since 2001 on emergency care for illegal immigrants, the state reported.

Other states with large illegal immigrant populations, such as Texas and Arizona, don't know how much they spend.

In Georgia, the state reported that the cost of emergency care for undocumented immigrants nearly doubled in three years, to $112 million in 2005 from $58 million in 2002. In North Carolina, with an estimated 270,000 illegal immigrants, costs more than doubled, to $52.8 million in 2005 from $25.8 million in 2000.

Source Herald-Leader