NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 24, 2005

Along the border from Chula Vista, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas, U.S. hospitals serve as a medical safety net for undocumented immigrants and residents of northern Mexico. Each year, their care costs American medical centers, consumers and taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. During 2002, 38 Arizona medical centers surveyed by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association reported losses on foreign-national patients of $153 million.

Arizona has been particularly burdened since the mid-1990s, when U.S. border crackdowns in Texas and California began funneling illegal immigrants and drug smugglers to the state's 350-mile border with Mexico.

  • Last year, Arizona accounted for 52 percent of the 1.1 million illegals captured by Border Patrol agents in the Southwest.
  • Arizona's 5.7 million population includes an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants; the nationwide total is about 11 million, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates.
  • University Medical Center, a non-profit hospital in Tucson, will spend an estimated $12 million this year on unreimbursed emergency care for foreign nationals, hospital president Greg Pivirotto says.
  • Because UMC has the only trauma center near the southern Arizona border, it treats severely injured patients who require expensive care; the hospital counted about 5,000 emergency patients in April, including 100 foreigners.

After years of pressure from the health care industry, the federal government recently announced a plan to repay hospitals across the United States for up to 30 percent of the unpaid bills they rack up for such patients from now through 2008. The payback could total $1 billion. Arizona hospitals stand to receive $45 million a year.

Source: Dennis Wagner, "Mexicans Go to Arizona for Medical Help," USA Today, May 18, 2005.

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