ANNAPOLIS — State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that health care costs for illegal aliens in Maryland are much higher than reported — and taxpayers and consumers are footing the bill.
“I am very concerned over this,” Mr. Schaefer told Maryland Budget Secretary James C. “Chip” DiPaula Jr. during a Board of Public Works meeting.
Mr. Schaefer, a Democrat, cited state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene numbers that show Maryland paid $44 million last year for emergency care for illegal aliens.
“That’s a lot of money, and you are not allowed to ask them if they are illegal,” said Mr. Schaefer, the 82-year-old former governor.
Mr. Schaefer has become increasingly concerned about the cost of health care for illegal aliens, or at least publicly, since an August 11 BPW meeting, at which state Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said Maryland spends $40 million to $44 million annually on health care for illegal aliens.
Mr. Sabatini yesterday said the figure is closer to $44 million and is “trending up.”
Mr. DiPaula, also a top official in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration, has estimated the cost at roughly $30 million a year, but said the number is being reviewed.
Mr. Schaefer is not alone among state politicians in his concern.
Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, who has sought tougher laws on illegal immigration through a series of bills, has estimated that the total cost is closer to $100 million. He and Delegate Richard K. Impallaria, Baltimore County Republicans, plan to reintroduce legislation to learn the exact cost of services of those here illegally.
A Democrat-controlled House committee killed the legislation last year during the 2004 General Assembly.
Delegate Victor R. Ramirez, Prince George’s County Democrat, has said businesses that profit from illegal immigration should be responsible.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has said he also is concerned about illegal aliens contributing to the state’s rising health care costs.
“There is a component of illegal immigrants causing pressure on our health care delivery system,” he said earlier this week.
Mr. Schaefer yesterday also reiterated an earlier statement that immigrants should speak English.
“There is something wrong with the system when immigrants who come in are not being assimilated in society,” he said. “Our country cannot afford it right now.”
Mr. Schaefer complained in May, after a McDonald’s employee had trouble understanding his order, that immigrants are not learning to “speak the language.”
Mr. Schaefer was criticized for his comments, including the statement that those who live in the United States who don’t speak English should become “Americanized.”
Mr. Ehrlich defend Mr. Schaefer, his political ally, by saying immigrants should assimilate into the U.S. culture and that multiculturalism was “bunk” and “crap.”
Mr. Ehrlich apologized for using the word “crap,” but said “bunk” was a benign term.
Luis Borunda, chairman of the Hispanic Republicans of Maryland, the official outreach arm for the party, said Mr. Ehrlich expressed “what needed to be said.”