NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Illegal Aliens Straining Health-Care System

March 21, 2003

Many foreign nationals enter the United States illegally through the 24 counties touching Mexico that run from Brownsville in south Texas all the way to San Diego. They take great risks to sneak across the border, making them prone to injury. As a result, the aliens find themselves crowding U.S. border hospitals and forcing the have-not locals to pick up the tab.

Federal law requires emergency rooms to accept all comers regardless of their citizenship or their ability to pay for services. The problem is becoming acute, says John J. Miller. For example:

  • Schaefer Ambulance Service, which handles 911 calls along California's border, has written off more than $620,000 over the last six years for uncompensated services provided to illegal aliens.
  • In 2000, hospitals and emergency-service providers lost more than $200 million because they weren't reimbursed for treatment given to illegal aliens.
  • Individual physicians may have lost another $100 million, according to a study sponsored by the United States/Mexico Border Counties Coalition.

Many border-area hospitals are being forced to cut back services or to close their doors entirely, which means that out-of-control immigration has become not only an inconvenience for millions of Americans, but a public-health hazard, according to Miller.

The Tucson Medical Center is about to unplug its medical trauma center. The only other trauma center in the city is also in serious trouble: the University Medical Center expects to lost about $5 million this year because of foreign nationals, up from $4 million last year.

The problem isn't confined to border counties, either. Jesica Santillan -- whose case recently drew national attention after Duke University botched her organ transplant -- wan an illegal alien whose family entered the United States without visas for the express purpose of receiving medical care.

Source: John J. Miller, "Caring for Illegals, Losing Their Shirts: The effect of the wave on border-state medical services," March 24, 2003, National Review.


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