Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Folly of Excluding Undocumented Immigrants from Obamacare

Guest blogger: Alexandra Sandoval, second-year law student, University of San Francisco

Barring undocumented immigrants from all and any kind of health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes no sense ethically. Barring this segment of the community also makes no sense financially in the long run for the U.S. health care system.

In a time where the Obama administration is attempting to reduce the overall health care costs for the residents of the United States, he and Congress have failed to look and consider the impact on a significant segment of the population. Ignoring the health issues of the undocumented is part of what results in skyrocketing costs for paying patients.

Barring undocumented immigrants from the ACA results in many confusing situations for people close to them. For example, mixed-status families sometimes do not know what their options are and, out of fear that loved ones may be deported, choose to not sign up for health care coverage. While the Obama administration has mentioned that hospitals will not release their information to the federal government, there is still a high level of mistrust that is not necessarily without merit.

The government could save so much money if they allowed the undocumented some critical preventative services. For example, currently, undocumented immigrants and low income lawful permanent residents who are waiting to qualify for state benefits have to wait until their health condition is serious enough for the hospital staff to deem it an emergency medical condition for which services can be provided. Hospitals agree that the situation is bad in terms of costs that hospitals must absorb as well as because of the pain and severity patients need to endure before a hospital is required to provide treatment.

The current state of health care results in situations that do not make sense. Because undocumented immigrants are not allowed anything but emergency medical services, a patient who needs prolonged hospital stays cannot be transferred to a lower cost nursing home or other long-term facility. The hospital is mandated to follow the significantly more expensive alternative. Adding to the problem, the ACA is set to reduce the Indigent care budget by $22 billion.

The Obama administration is failing to realize that the undocumented population does not live separate and apart from the rest of the country. Ignoring the problems this segment of the population faces costs everyone much more money.

Medical professionals insist that the healthcare system is not the place to deal with immigration reform. Regardless of a person’s legal resident status, people get sick. In fact, most people who do come to the United States without inspection are actually quite healthy—healthy enough to travel long distances in extreme weather to come here and often work in extremely difficult jobs that require physical labor. To be able to take these jobs, people need to stay healthy; if not, becoming stick would negatively affect the economy. It makes no sense for us to require this population to take the most physically demanding jobs, that can affect their health, and then deny them any sort of coverage beyond emergency medical treatment. In fact, most of the time these workers’ health problems are easily preventable and cheaper to deal in the preventive stage.

Undocumented residents have very few options regarding health care, and the system can be extremely confusing and difficult to navigate. We need reform to the ACA that recognizes the foolishness of excluding an important segment of the country and our economy from full health care coverage. Another option is immigration reform that would grant status to undocumented workers that would make them eligible for health coverage.


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