- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

State governments and hospitals across the country are closely watching a lawsuit in Los Angeles County that could have an enormous impact on immigration policy.

Terry Anderson and Hal Netkin filed suit last October against the county’s chief medical officer, Thomas L. Garthwaite, to force the county to seek reimbursements from 10 unidentified sponsors of legal immigrants for health care the immigrants received at clinics and hospitals.

“This is the first case of its kind, and it is a federal standard case,” said James E. Bame, attorney for the plaintiffs.

He said the case could force hospitals to go after sponsors of legal immigrants for money they have promised to pay for health care or after the immigrants themselves.

Although the California lawsuit involves care of legal immigrants, political debate over the costs of health care for illegal immigrants escalated late last year when Congress passed a new Medicare bill that included a $1 billion pool of money for state reimbursements of the costs associated with emergency medical care to illegal immigrants.

“All along the border, from Texas to California, dozens of hospitals have closed their emergency rooms because they can no longer survive the financial hemorrhaging caused by giving free health care to illegals,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican.

D.C.-based Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement (FILE), a national group of 200 lawyers, legislators and law-enforcement officers, is sponsoring the case.

“We’re happy that the public is starting to pay attention, because one of our arguments is that there is public outrage that the people responsible for this won’t even send a bill to people who have already promised to pay,” said Craig Nelson, FILE spokesman.

Mr. Rohrabacher, who supports the plaintiffs’ position in the Los Angeles case, recently introduced a bill that would require hospitals seeking federal reimbursements to request information on the citizenship, immigration status, U.S. address, employer’s name or some biometric indicator, to be decided by the Department of Homeland Security, from the patients deemed illegal immigrants.

The measure failed by a vote of 88-331 on May 18.

“I hope every citizen of this country uses the vote on H.R. 3722 to determine whether their representative has defended the good of their constituents against powerful special-interest groups,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

His spokesman, Aaron Lewis, said the congressman now wishes the vote had been pushed back 10 days to May 28, when the General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report recommending Congress do exactly what Mr. Rohrabacher said it should.

“Until reliable information is available on undocumented aliens and the costs of their care, accurate assessment of their financial effect on hospitals will remain elusive,” the report said.

The GAO recommended that the secretary of health and human services develop a reporting system for health care providers to use in claiming reimbursements and conduct periodic checks in ensure that the $1 billion is being spent appropriately for care to illegal immigrants.

Although one legislative remedy has failed, the court case is moving forward. On June 8, California Superior Court Judge David Yaffee called for briefs from both parties in the first status hearing on the case.

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