Houston-based Memorial Hermann was recently under fire after clinical staff called police to report an undocumented immigrant who presented a fake ID along with her valid private insurance card at a clinic within the system.
The health system said staff were unaware of Blanca Borrego's residency status and expressed regret over her arrest. It said it is re-evaluating its processes following this “unique event” that had “nothing to do with immigration or residency status.”
But the incident puts the spotlight on the challenges of providers who care for the undocumented, 60% of whom don't have insurance, according to the Healthy Americas Institute at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, a research center focused on improving health in Hispanic communities.
Not all providers ask for identification when patients check in, but many do; it's often required by manuals created by payers, said Laura Palmer, a senior fellow at the Englewood, Colo.-based Medical Group Management Association. Emergency departments, on the other hand, must evaluate and stabilize all patients who come through their doors, regardless of their ability to produce identification.
Dr. David Ansell, senior vice president for system integration at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, has been a strong advocate for undocumented immigrants' healthcare. He said Rush staff generally asks patients for some form of ID to identify allergies and pre-existing conditions. They're less concerned about ID validity and more concerned that the patient's photo identification matches their medical record, he said.