The hospital lobby claimed a legislative victory last week when the House rejected a bill that critics argued would deputize caregivers as border patrol agents.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), would have required hospitals to screen and report illegal immigrants as a condition of receiving reimbursement for their treatment made possible by last year's Medicare reform law. That law set aside $1 billion over four years to pay hospitals for treating illegal immigrants, a provision the American Hospital Association and other provider groups supported.
Rohrabacher's bill, which House members defeated 331-88, "will live to fight another day," Rohrabacher said in a news release. He has said the healthcare system is "breaking down under the pressure and the strain of illegal immigrants." A spokesman for Rohrabacher said the congressman will try to build more grass-roots support for the bill before he attempts to reintroduce it.
House leadership promised Rohrabacher that if he voted for last year's Medicare bill, he could later bring up legislation to place conditions on hospitals' access to the money it earmarked for treatment of illegal immigrants.
"The California Healthcare Association, along with the AHA and all the state associations, lobbied this very, very hard," said Jan Emerson, a spokeswoman for the California association. Only eight of the 53 members of California's congressional delegation voted for the Rohrabacher measure, Emerson said.
Under Rohrabacher's bill, hospitals that wanted reimbursement under the Medicare provision would have been required to ask patients if they are legal U.S. citizens. If a patient answered no, the hospital would have to ask their immigration and employment status and take ID information. That would then be forwarded to a database maintained by HHS and the Department of Homeland Security.
"There is nothing that would suggest that (the) information could not be used to immediately begin deportation proceedings against an illegal immigrant who is coming into our hospitals to get thousands of dollars ... of free medical care from the taxpayers of the United States," Rohrabacher said in a January speech on the House floor.
The overwhelming defeat of Rohrabacher's bill, Emerson said, sends a "strong message that this is not the way to deal with illegal immigration issues."