Health care costs of illegal immigration

I have a simple question today for CEO Ed Epperson of financially strapped CarsonÐTahoe Medical Center: How much does the hospital spend each year on medical care for indigent illegal immigrants who show up at the emergency room knowing they'll be treated at the expense of the hospital's paying customers?

I ask this question because medical and public education expenses for illegal immigrants and their children are creating financial problems for border states and their neighbors, including Nevada. But that's not something so-called "immigration advocates" want to discuss in polite company, even as they assure us that illegals are paying their fair share of federal, state and local taxes. That's patently untrue, however, since most "undocumented" workers are paid in cash under the table by unscrupulous employers. To paraphrase that hateful Mexican "bandido" in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," Taxes? We don't pay no stinking taxes.

Things got so bad along the border last year that the liberal Democratic governors of Arizona and New Mexico declared budget emergencies and demanded financial assistance from the federal government. After all, if the Feds can't stem the tide of illegal immigration, the least they can do is to help states pay for budget-busting medical and educational expenses incurred by illegal aliens and their children.

In May, CarsonÐTahoe CEO Epperson announced that the hospital would cancel adult behavioral services on June 30 (last Friday) and phase out similar services for children and adolescents by the end of the year unless other sources of funding can be found. He also disclosed that the hospital subsidized these programs to the tune of more than $350,000 last year, and said they can only be continued if they become self-sustaining - in other words, if they pay for themselves. Fat chance! Needless to say, the local mental health community is in an uproar.

Which brings us back to my original question. According to a well-researched article by Appeal business writer Becky Bosshart, the local hospital spent nearly $20 million on medical care for indigent and uninsured patients over the last two fiscal years, with the state reimbursing only $1 million of that amount. Epperson told Ms. Bosshart that the remaining loss is offset by annual profits and cannot be written-off, and acknowledged that the hospital loses money by operating an emergency room where low-income people can come for treatment whether they have insurance or not. And when they don't, guess who pays. That's right, the rest of us who are charged full price at our beautiful new hospital.

Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are problems too because many elderly immigrants don't qualify for Medicare (none of the illegals do) and Medicaid reimburses less than half of what the hospital actually spends on indigent care. In his recent Appeal interview, Epperson revealed that up to 70 percent of the hospital's patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, or both. No wonder the embattled CEO and his administrative staff are having so much trouble balancing the books.

Indigent patients are also receiving free medical care at FISH's Ross Clinic, which was founded in the mid-1990s by the late Dr. Charlie Ross and nurse practitioner Carol Read-Anderson, among others. Ms. Read-Anderson, Dr. William King (now retired), Dr. Rex Baggett and other dedicated volunteers kept the clinic going after Dr. Ross' untimely death. My late wife, Consuelo, was a clinic volunteer and she was surprised by how many of the patients - well over half - were Spanish-speakers. I continue to contribute to the Ross Clinic because I'd rather spend my money there, where I know what I'm paying for, rather than in inflated taxes and medical bills at the local hospital.

Many states are rebelling against the burgeoning costs of illegal immigration. In all, some 500 immigration reform bills have been introduced in state legislatures so far this year but far too often activist judges have thwarted the will of the people. The latest example of that troubling trend was in Colorado, where the State Supreme Court voted 4-2 to ban a ballot initiative that would have prohibited illegals from receiving "non-emergency" social services. In that state, the Center for Immigration Studies found that most illegals don't have health insurance and that nearly 20 percent of households headed by illegals have at least one family member using a taxpayer-funded welfare program such as food stamps or Medicaid.

Voters are clearly fed-up with political game-playing on this vital national security issue. And fortunately for us taxpayers, the House of Representatives is siding with us by opposing President Bush's massive amnesty program for illegal immigrants, which was passed by the Senate. Most Americans want the Feds to gain control over our borders before considering any kind of "guest worker" (amnesty) program. And that's as it should be in a country that purports to respect the Rule of Law and the principle of national sovereignty. Happy Fourth of July!

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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