- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

Do hospitals have their work compromised by being required, in exchange for receiving taxpayer subsidies, to truthfully report whether they are treating illegal immigrants? Some hospitals in the District claim that this is the case. They are wrong. Even worse, by making this specious argument, the complainers at MedStar Health, the American Hospital Association and the D.C. Hospital Association are undermining what appears to be an otherwise valid case that D.C. deserves to be compensated for treating illegals from Maryland and Virginia who use city emergency rooms.

Last week, the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced that D.C. hospitals will be unable to get funds allotted to neighboring states to provide emergency health services for illegal immigrants under a new federal program. District health-care providers appear to have a legitimate concern about the rigid bureaucratic formula governing the program. This federal money should go to the hospitals that are forced to bear the burden imposed by illegal immigration —wherever the facilities are located.

But we categorically reject the griping by some health-care providers over being required to ask people whether they are in the United States in violation of the law. According to the AHA, for example, this could deter patients from seeking emergency care.

But businesses routinely ask job applicants their immigration status. Why should hospitals be immune from asking the same questions — especially given the fact that they want money from a special federal program providing emergency care for illegal immigrants?

The illegals who are affected by these reporting requirements are members of an economic underclass who work with little or no health insurance. They have broken the law to come here; if they irresponsibly decide not to seek emergency treatment at taxpayer expense because it would jeopardize their ability to stay here illegally, it would indeed be tragic. But culpability for any such tragedy would lie solely with those who broke the law and decided not to avail themselves of emergency treatment available to them.

The 1996 landmark welfare-reform legislation passed by the Republican Congress and signed into law by President Clinton included numerous provisions making it possible for responsible state and local governments and their employees to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in bringing lawbreakers to justice. Unfortunately, because of the pressure exerted by the open-borders lobby, these provisions have never been given a chance to work. It’s time for a healthy national debate over what to do about state and local governments and private businesses they subsidize who think that flouting our immigration laws is a good thing.

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