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.


“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.


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.


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.


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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