Illegal Immigrants Getting Free Healthcare


The Affordable Care Act prohibits illegal immigrants from healthcare coverage. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting taxpayer-funded healthcare.

The Wall Street Journal surveyed the 25 U.S. counties with the largest illegal immigrant populations and found that 20 of them have programs that pay for the low-income uninsured to have doctor visits, shots, prescription drugs, lab tests and surgeries at local providers. Who is paying for this care? The local taxpayers.

All residents of the county are eligible for these healthcare services – regardless of immigration status. While federal laws require the screening and stabilization of any patient for emergencies, these non-emergency visits are provided at the discretion of local politicians.

Proponents of this practice justify these programs. “If federal programs exclude people who live here and get sick here, then someone has to care for them,” says George Leventhal, a Democratic council member who started a local initiative to provide care to uninsured immigrants in Montgomery County, Maryland, a Washington, D.C. suburb.

Critics say the county should support immigration enforcement rather than undermine it with these programs. Brad Botwin, a local opponent of illegal immigration, objects to the cost of the county health program. “They can’t fix the roads. The metro system is absolutely falling apart. But they have the money to put up these health benefits.”

Louise Radnofsky, healthcare reporter for The Wall Street Journal, notes that both Democratic and Republican federal lawmakers agree with the ACA’s prohibition against providing government-subsidized insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Presidential candidates of both parties also agree. These programs then are the work of local politicians who are imposing their own agenda on the taxpayers of their county.

The Costs

The costs of these programs are significant. Interviews with officials in the top 25 counties revealed these programs provide non-emergency care for at least 750,000 unauthorized immigrants, costing more than $1 billion a year.

These health centers provide treatment for diabetes, orthopedic injuries, anxiety disorders, and other common ailments. They rely on donated help from area specialists, hospital and drug companies, along with modest patient contributions. Hospitals contribute to keep the same people out of their emergency rooms.

In New York City, the public-hospital system estimates it provided nonemergency care last year to 208,000 illegal immigrants across Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The cost was about $400 million – paid for by local taxpayers and everyone who has insurance and uses the hospital system.

In Los Angeles, 135,000 low-income residents without legal immigrant status are assigned primary care providers in a “medical home” designed to coordinate their care. They get an ID card, use of member-services hotline and a booklet akin to an insurance brochure that explains how to gain access to screenings, a clinic network for specialty care and prescription drugs.

Illegal Immigrants Healthcare

The Debate Continues

The debate concerning how to treat these illegal immigrants rages on in every county with a significant immigration population. The impact on other social programs and infrastructure spending can be huge and therefore must be considered. Moreover, there is the moral dilemma between encouraging illegal immigration and providing needed healthcare treatment.

The real question is whether it is better to provide for the needs of these people through charitable organizations or government-run (taxpayer funded) programs. When these needs are met through charitable clinics, the patients appreciate the services provided and the providers benefit by that appreciation. When government-run programs provide the same services, the patients feel a sense of entitlement and the taxpayers feel more like they have been fleeced.

(Join the conversation. Tell me how you feel this problem is best solved.)

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