Sunday, July 19, 2009

Undocumented Immigrants & Health Care...

As I spoke of in the past, EMTALA federal legislation applies to all patients presenting to the ED. This includes the care for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who are a part of our population and add to the burden of the uninsured. What is interesting is that no national Health Care Reform plan takes on this issue to date (or maybe it does because of the purposeful exclusion of these patients).

Where I don't want to get into a philosophical diatribe about whether to insure undocumented immigrants, what does the public expect ED's to do when these patients arrive? Probably the same we do now....treat them and expect no payment for services. At least (for the most part) one does not have to worry about malpractice since most attorneys will not touch these cases since there is very little room for economic damages - the guy planting your shrubs or mowing your lawn or the woman cleaning your house or the person behind the counter at McDonald's can't claim millions of dollars in damages if he or she is disabled. Our society really is twisted!

Our elected officials in state and federal government are smart. They can avoid this issue (so they can't be labeled as bigots and worry about loosing votes if they refuse to insure undocumented immigrants). Congress and policy writers know that these people can at least get "free care" in any Emergency Department in the nation off the backs of physicians, hospitals, and other providers, including insurance companies and other patients secondary to cost shifting! Who said Congress was stupid?

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