Immigrants Cling to Fragile Lifeline at Safety-Net Hospital

Kevin Sack, New York Times, Sept. 23, 2009

At Grady [Hospital in Atlanta], about four in 10 patients are uninsured, and an additional 25 percent are insured by Medicaid, which reimburses at rates so low they often do not cover actual costs. As a result, the hospital lost $33.5 million last year, with the dialysis clinic accounting for about $2 million of that total, said Denise R. Williams, the hospital’s executive vice president.

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Hospital officials estimate that two-thirds of the outpatient clinic’s roughly 90 patients are illegal immigrants. They do not qualify for Medicare, which covers dialysis regardless of a patient’s age, and they are excluded in Georgia from Medicaid and other government insurance programs. Legal immigrants face a five-year waiting period before becoming eligible. That leaves Grady to absorb costs of up to $50,000 a year per dialysis patient, some of whom have availed themselves of the thrice-weekly treatments for years.

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