- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The House yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a bill to require hospitals to identify illegal aliens before the federal government would reimburse the hospitals for their care.

It was a severe defeat for immigration-control advocates, with just 86 Republicans and two Democrats voting for the measure and 331 members voting against it, including the House Republican and Democratic leadership. And the loss followed a harsh debate that included charges from one side of immigrant-bashing and from the other side of ignoring the needs of legal residents.

“With [this] bill, we continue to see elements of the xenophobic base of the Republican Party,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and sponsor of the bill, said the government has an obligation to U.S. citizens and legal residents before taking care of illegal aliens.

“We cannot be the HMO of the world and expect to take care of our own people,” he said.

Last year’s Medicare-overhaul and prescription-drug bill included $1 billion over four years to reimburse hospitals for some of the costs of treating illegal immigrants, who by law are entitled to emergency medical care but usually don’t have health insurance or the means to pay for the treatment.

Hospitals that want to apply for the money already must determine that they treated an illegal immigrant, and Mr. Rohrabacher wanted them to go two steps further to gather information, possibly fingerprinting the aliens then reporting them to a government database. The Department of Homeland Security would then begin deportation proceedings.

“If we let this go through as it stands, what is going to happen is this: people who come to the emergency rooms who are American citizens or legal residents who have no insurance will be put at the end of the line, and the illegal immigrants will be put to the front of the line because the federal government is picking up the tab,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

The proposal also would have required businesses that employed uninsured illegal aliens to cover their treatment costs, and would have told hospitals to send non-emergency patients to their home nation for treatment.

Most medical, hospital and business groups that weighed in on the bill opposed it vehemently, as did Hispanic Republican and Democratic members of the House. They said it would turn hospital workers into immigration police, and said it could become a public health crisis by encouraging illegal aliens not to seek medical attention.

“Let us not jeopardize our entire public health system in this misguided attempt to bring down health care costs and deport undocumented workers,” said Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, had to promise last fall to allow a vote on Mr. Rohrabacher’s bill to win his support for the Medicare-overhaul bill.

Mr. Rohrabacher’s bill was considered on the House floor under special rules that require a two-thirds vote to pass, but it fell far short.

“The thought behind it is correct, but the particular approach in the bill was not the best way to go about it,” said Stuart Roy, a spokesman for Majority Leader Tom Delay, Texas Republican. Mr. DeLay voted against the measure.

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