The Bush administration dropped a requirement, vigorously opposed by the hospital industry and immigration groups, that hospital emergency rooms ask patients about their immigration status in order to receive extra Medicare funds allocated to ease the financial burden of caring for illegal immigrants. The CMS said it would release alternate rules soon. It appears the agency will seek information on immigration status by other means, but at deadline it wasn't known how.
The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 budgeted $250 million per year from fiscal 2005 through fiscal 2008 for ERs' treatment of undocumented aliens. The CMS said the requirement that hospitals ask patients about their immigration status was meant to make sure the funds were spent properly. Hospitals said the policy would add to the workload in hospital ERs and could prevent some illegal aliens from seeking treatment out of fear of deportation. In a letter to providers, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan acknowledged that the policy could be burdensome to hospital ERs and impair the provider-patient relationship.. -- by Tony Fong