Hospital Falters as Refuge for Illegal Immigrants

Kevin Sack, New York Times, November 21, 2009

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Like other hospitals, particularly public hospitals, Grady [Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta] has been left to provide costly treatments to nonpaying illegal residents who most likely could not have obtained such care in their home countries. American taxpayers and health care consumers have borne the expense.

Over time, the mounting losses have compromised Grady’s charitable mission, forcing layoffs, increases in fees and the elimination of services.

“Years and years of providing this free care has led Grady to the breaking point,” said Matt Gove, one of the hospital’s senior vice presidents. {snip}

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Officials at Grady, which will provide more than $300 million in uncompensated care this year, estimate that as many as a fifth of its uninsured patients are illegal immigrants. Although the numbers are elusive, a national study by the RAND Corporation concluded that illegal immigrants account for about 1.3 percent of public health spending.

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Some of the Grady dialysis patients have chosen to return to their countries, encouraged by the hospital’s offer of free airfare, cash payments, three months of paid dialysis and assistance in seeking insurance or other long-term remedies. Others are trying their luck in states where Medicaid policies may be less restrictive.

But most remain in Atlanta, taking full advantage of a last-minute offer by the hospital, in response to a lawsuit, to pay for three months of dialysis at commercial clinics. They are hopeful that the reprieve will buy time for the lawsuit to progress or for private dialysis providers to take them as charity cases.

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[Editor’s Note: Read about yet another hospital driven into debt by immigrants seeking dialysis services here.]

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