Southcoast Hospitals Group and the Massachusetts Department of Social Services turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants seeking their assistance, officials of both agencies said.
“When a patient comes in, we collect information about them in the interest of quality care and for billing information,” said Southcoast spokesperson Joyce Brennan. “Their status is not part of those questions.”
The mission of DSS takes no account of legal status, either, said spokesperson Denise Monteiro.
Determining the costs to hospitals and taxpayers in general for providing service to illegal immigrants apparently is as difficult to calculate as stopping them from sneaking over the border.
The 25-year-old Federation for American Immigration Reform, which describes itself as a national, nonprofit, public-interest, non-partisan membership organization, estimated in 2004 that providing health, education and social services to illegal immigrants cost $580 million that year. The group projected the costs would rise to $992 million by 2010 and $1.737 billion by 2020.
Hospitals are under a federal mandate—the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act—to treat everybody who comes through their doors seeking care, Mrs. Brennan said.
No verifiable numbers are available to fix the cost of illegal immigration.
An attempt to quantify the cost of illegal immigration was made in 2002 by the Center for Immigration Studies, which calculated how much the taxes paid by illegal immigrants in their jobs defrays their overall cost.
“Households headed by illegal aliens imposed more than $26.3 billion in costs on the federal government in 2002 and paid only $16 billion in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of almost $10.4 billion,” the center reported.
The General Accounting Office reported in 2004 that the federal government did not have good record keeping of the cost of educating children of illegal immigrants because school districts do not inquire about legal status.
The National Center for Education Statistics maintains enrollment and cost data, but has no information on immigration status, the report said.
The Southcoast Hospital Group’s experience with providing service to illegal immigrants is “some pay cash, some we send the bills to their house and they pay and sometimes we submit an application to see if they are eligible for (financial assistance) from a state program,” Mrs. Brennan said.
For others who “have no means to pay after we have tried to collect and we can’t collect, the hospital absorbs the cost as charity care.” In 2004, bad debt for services to patients who did not pay totaled $10.9 million and, in 2005, bad debt written off amounted to $12 million, Mrs. Brennan said.