Saturday, July 8, 2006

DALLAS — Parkland Memorial Hospital plans to bill Mexico and other countries to help cover the costs of health care for indigents.

The plan, which also seeks payments from adjoining counties in Texas, has brought a negative response from the Mexican government, with a diplomat terming it “an act of discrimination.”

Last year, hospital officials said, Dallas County spent $76.5 million to treat people from outside Dallas. Of that, almost $27 million was not reimbursed.

Much of the cost was for treating patients from adjoining counties in Texas, which Dallas County officials claim is unfair to local taxpayers.

Collin County, just north of here and one of the state’s richest counties, owed the most of any single entity, Parkland officials said — about $7.6 million.

County Judge Margaret Keliher said she was not hopeful that other counties — or countries — would pay up.

But, she said, the county commission thought the matter should be made public and bills sent.

“If you’re not Dallas County residents, we think where you are from should pay for your indigent health care,” Judge Keliher said.

Hugo Juarez, a consul official at the Mexican Consulate in Dallas, was visibly perturbed.

He called the statements made by the judge “a strange posture, a strange reasoning.” He said there had been no agreement or contract between his nation and Dallas County that would make such action legal.

Lobbyists and county officials last year tried unsuccessfully to get the Texas Legislature to come up with a law that forced counties to reimburse those hospitals that took in large numbers of indigents.

“What’s wrong with sending them a bill?” commission member Maurine Dickey said. She said officials “hoped” the counties that sent their citizens to Parkland would pay something. “We owe it to taxpayers to at least try.”

Mr. Juarez also was curious about how hospital officials would know where to send the bill.

“How do they know who is Mexican?” he said. “Nobody asks for your nationality nor immigration status when you go to the hospital.”

Currently, Parkland is reimbursed by the federal government for treatment of illegal aliens, but Parkland officials said that agreement covers only 48 hours of emergency care and falls far short of what expenses the hospital often incurs.

The hospital has spent more than a week figuring out how many foreign nationals have been treated and how much to bill each of the nations.

An estimated 90 percent of those affected are Mexican nationals, one source told The Washington Times.

John Gates, Parkland’s chief financial officer, said he was in favor of sending the bills, though he doubted anybody would pay.

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