Healthcare Business News

AHA urges Obama to consider costs of treating illegal immigrants

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: June 8, 2011 - 4:30 pm ET

The American Hospital Association is urging President Barack Obama to consider the costs hospitals incur for treating illegal immigrants—and to include provisions in his legislative recommendations to Congress that would sufficiently reimburse them for doing so.

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In a letter to Obama, AHA President and CEO Richard Umbdenstock cited recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau that show there are more than 8.7 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires Medicare-participating hospitals to screen, treat and stabilize individuals seeking care in hospital emergency rooms regardless of their documentation status, but federal support for these services remains “virtually nonexistent,” Umbdenstock wrote. A section of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 provided $250 million from 2005 to 2008 to help hospitals that treated the highest volume of illegal immigrants, but that authorization has expired.

“Hospitals shoulder a disproportionate burden in providing EMTALA-mandated emergency services to undocumented immigrants,” Umbdenstock said in his letter. “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,” he continued. “The most recent statistics shows that America's hospitals provided nearly $40 billion in uncompensated care in 2009.”

An AHA spokeswoman said the organization is not seeking a specific amount of funding. Rather, the AHA is reminding the president to include provisions that would help hospitals treat this patient population as he considers legislation revising current immigration laws.

Last month, Obama delivered a speech in El Paso, Texas, in which he urged Congress to enact immigration reform and pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act. The House passed that legislation last December, but bill did not receive the 60 votes required in the Senate to advance the House measure. Both chambers re-introduced the bill last month.

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