Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Immigration policy is a key factor in a growing increase in the uninsured and the fiscal crises burdening public health care systems nationwide, officials at the Federation for American Immigration Reform said in a report yesterday.

The report, “The Sinking Lifeboat: Uncontrolled Immigration and the U.S. Health Care System,” said that as states cut their health care budgets to try to make ends meet, high rates of immigration are straining the health care system to the breaking point.

“At a time when we are already struggling to provide affordable care to millions of uninsured residents, President Bush’s immigration proposal would bring in hundreds of thousands more uninsured and officially sanction a massive illegal population already here and already draining health care funds from struggling communities,” said FAIR Executive Director Dan Stein.

The report said one out of every four uninsured people in the United States is an immigrant; almost half of immigrants either have no insurance or have it provided to them at taxpayers’ expense; and in some hospitals, as much as two-thirds of total operating costs are for uncompensated care for illegal aliens.

It also said that hospitals near the U.S.-Mexican border reported losses of almost $190 million in unreimbursed costs for treating illegal aliens in 2000, with an additional $113 million in ambulance fees and follow-up services; and that the increase in uncompensated care for immigrants has forced some hospitals to reduce staff, increase rates, cut back services and close maternity wards and trauma centers.

The cost of health care has been of growing concern to Americans in the past two years, according to polls conducted by several groups and agencies, including the Associated Press. An AP poll last month said health care costs were mentioned as a worry by 19 percent, up from 11 percent a year ago, and that twice as many women as men cited health care costs as a top problem.

Eight million to 12 million illegal aliens, mostly Mexican nationals, are thought to be in the United States.

FAIR, a District-based organization that seeks to limit annual immigration, said health care problems are on the rise for U.S. taxpayers, noting that the number of legal and illegal aliens who arrived in this country from 1994 to 1998 and their children accounted for 59 percent of the growth in the size of the uninsured population in the past 10 years.

“Politicians seeking solutions to the health care crisis in America must adopt the most elemental principle of the medical profession: ‘First, do no harm,’” Mr. Stein said. “Our immigration policies are doing incalculable harm to millions of people who are trying to protect their health and the health of their families.”

Instead of proposing to spend more money to remedy a growing problem, Mr. Stein said, U.S. politicians must examine some of the underlying causes for the health care crisis in the country, including immigration policies.

“We can’t simultaneously cure the problem while we’re adding to it,” he said.

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