NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Emergency Medicaid Program For Immigrants

October 31, 2000

Indigent immigrants may be granted temporary medical visas under a federal health-care provision known as Emergency Medicaid. In 1996, Congress, as part of its welfare-reform efforts, passed an anti-immigration package of legislation aimed at kicking newly arrived immigrants, legal and otherwise, off the federal government's $190 billion Medicaid rolls. The idea was to save enormous sums of tax dollars while removing a major element in the immigration magnet that America continues to be.

  • Emergency Medicaid generally allows immigrants, legal or illegal, to get emergency and trauma care at hospitals.
  • The program has broad exceptions, generally excluding single adults over 18 and childless couples under 65 years of age.
  • The idea was to treat critically ill patients in acute hospitals, then send them on their way.
  • But emergency Medicaid is taxing some hospitals, running up extraordinary costs and stranding patients in indefinite hospital stays because the program only covers inpatient hospital care, not rehabilitation or nursing home care.

Tough federal and state antidumping laws forbid hospitals from turning away patients, whatever their immigration status, or, once admitted, from kicking them out -- so long as they need acute care.

The result is that immigrants, legal or not, are racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills for extravagant care that ordinary Medicaid clients -- or indeed, most insured citizens -- might never be entitled to.

Critics of Emergency Medicaid see it as another example of a misguided U.S. attempt to control ballooning health-care costs that instead covers the most expensive care.

Immigrant advocates want Medicaid amended to restore at least partial benefits for immigrants under regular Medicaid. There are suspicions that Emergency Medicaid is popular with many hospitals because it provides a lucrative revenue stream while keeping beds occupied.

Source: Lucette Lagnado, "Emergency Medicaid Policy Binds Sick Immigrants Without an Exit," Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2000.


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