Project Immigration: Illegal Immigrant Healthcare

WJLA-TV (Washington, D.C.), June 20, 2008

In this Project Immigration report, we take a look at the high cost of illegal immigrant health care in the Washington area and nationwide.

“As of today, I have a patient from Mexico who’s been in my hospital for 760 days,” said an administrator at Martin Memorial Medical Center.

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“We had an illegal immigrant patient from Guatemala. He had more than $1.5 million in healthcare services,” she said.

The Florida hospital spent $30,000 to send the Guatemalan home after two years, there was hardly a thank you from his relatives.

‘His family in the United States is now suing us,” she said. We’ve spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees since the family thought it was inappropriate of us to return him to his home country.”

Washington area hospitals are facing the same dilemma.

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Hospitals are legally and some say—morally—obligated to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.

“We just had a gentleman here for 275 days. He was from El Salvador,” said Orlowski [Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief medical director at Washington Hospital Center].

The problem is once illegal immigrants land in an acute care facility like Washington Hospital Center, the hospital is stuck caring for them and can’t legally transfer the patients to a more appropriate, less costly long-term care facility.

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The Washington Hospital Center treats illegal immigrants on a weekly basis, at the cost of millions of dollars of unreimbursed care. Hspital beds are often full.

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And American taxpayers pick up the tab.

Just this week Washington Hospital Center spent $80,000 to send two illegal immigrants back to their home countries.

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