Free Healthcare for Illegal Immigrants

Written by Jeff Johnson on October 5, 2010. Posted in Golden Hydrant

goldenhydrantGolden Hydrant goes to Hennepin County for providing free non-emergency health care to illegal immigrants

Today the county board voted on some significant changes to Hennepin County Medical Center’s (HCMC) admissions policy, including changes to whom HCMC provides free subsidized non-emergency care. Hennepin County taxpayers subsidize HCMC to the tune of over $30 million each year to cover free and reduced-cost services to the poor.

The new policy proposed to deny free non-emergency services (federal law requires all hospitals to provide emergency services to everyone, regardless of ability to pay) to those who do not live in Hennepin County. In the past, HCMC has provided services to anyone who walked in the door, regardless of residence or ability to pay. Under this new policy, HCMC would continue to provide free services to ANYONE who claims to live in Hennepin County, including illegal immigrants.

I offered an amendment to the policy stating simply:

“Free and Discounted Care provided through Hennepin County Medical Center will be limited to U.S. citizens or legal noncitizens except as otherwise required by state or federal law…”

My proposal failed on a vote of 6 – 1.

The latest Golden Fire Hydrant goes to HCMC’s decision – and the county board’s blessing of that decision – to spend taxpayer dollars to provide free non-emergency health care services to illegal immigrants.

This is not a new issue; I’ve been working on this almost since my first day on the board in January 2009. My M.O. has always been to try to change things I don’t like behind-the-scenes, when possible. I have had some luck in making several such changes that way.

If I fail to change things behind-the-scenes, however, my next step is to move the issue in-front-of-the-scenes and make sure the public is aware of how we spend their money.

This issue is an example of something I haven’t been able to change behind-the-scenes.

My argument is simple: Hennepin County resources are finite and, consequently, HCMC has come before us seeking to exclude those who don’t live in the county from receiving free, non-emergency healthcare services.

Why then, would we continue to provide those same free services to those who are not living in the country legally?

The most common response I received to my proposal: “What do you propose we do with these people?”

A couple of thoughts on that:

First, we are talking about non-emergency care, essentially elective health care procedures. We are not throwing dying people out on the street (and we never will).

Second, non-profit organizations in Minnesota (which receive tens of millions of dollars each year from Hennepin County) are not prohibited from using tax dollars to serve anyone they choose, including illegal immigrants. I’m not sure that is how it should be, but it is how it is.

Third, we are choosing as a government to exclude many legal, taxpaying citizens from receiving free non-emergency healthcare services in favor of illegal immigrants. It is an equally valid question to ask: “What do we propose to do with THESE people?” And, what are we going to do with everyone else in Minnesota or Hennepin County who does not receive something from the government that they want or need?

Government does not provide everything to everyone. We don’t provide homes for all of our citizens. We don’t assure that everyone has three square meals per day. That, of course, is because it’s not the job of government to be everything to everyone AND because the pockets of our taxpaying citizens are not bottomless.

Finally, and most importantly, we are talking about people who are in the United States illegally. Illegal immigration is not a small problem in this country and to provide non-essential services to illegal immigrants for free – no questions asked – does not bode well for ever solving the problem.

In 2005, the Office of Strategic Planning and Results Management reported that unauthorized noncitizens cost Minnesota health assistance programs approximately $35.5 million. That is completely separate from whatever amount Hennepin or any other county is spending.

No one can even estimate how much it costs to provide free non-emergency healthcare services to illegal immigrants at HCMC because no one is keeping track.

Hence, once my first proposal failed, I offered a second amendment to the policy, requiring HCMC to track the uncompensated care costs to the hospital of those patients who cannot pay and do not have a social security number or alien registration number so we could determine in the future whether this is costing taxpayers a few hundred thousand dollars, a few million dollars or more. After about thirty minutes of back and forth and picking the language apart (which was partly my fault as the resolution was not as tight as it could have been), I withdrew the amendment. I will attempt to get this information on my own.

Let me finish by saying that I believe HCMC is a great hospital. It is an asset to Hennepin County and its residents and it does crucial work. But providing free non-emergency taxpayer-funded healthcare to those here illegally at a time when we are heavily subsidizing the hospital and cutting back our spending elsewhere is wrong. Period.

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