Dialysis for illegal immigrants becomes issue in Las Vegas

Talk about finding a way to stir up strong feelings. A daily newspaper serving Las Vegas has published an article noting that a taxpayer-supported medical center spends $20 million a year, and that the immigrants who go there have been referred by for-profit hospitals.

The story, which appeared in The Las Vegas Review-Journal this week notes that while under EMTALA, hospitals must offer stabilizing treatment to anyone who walks into their doors. It also reminds readers that treatment must be provided, regardless of whether the patient can pay for care--and regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens.

Since U.S. citizens with end-stage renal disease automatically qualify for Medicare to cover dialysis costs, and immigrants are not eligible for Medicare, hospitals are well aware that patients who don't have insurance and aren't on Medicare are almost exclusively illegal immigrants to the U.S.

Each emergency dialysis visit is estimated to cost the public University Medical Center, where immigrants typically get care, about $15,000. Officials are saying that dialysis costs are forcing them to lay off workers.

Our take: I have no doubt that the hospital is struggling, but I'm forced to wonder whether the newspaper chose a good time to inflame anti-immigrant passions when the cost of dialysis in this case, though high for UMC, is a drop in the bucket from a national reform standpoint. Review-Journal editors, care to share with me what you had in mind other than encouraging local citizens to become agitated or even violent toward undocumented or even legal immigrants? I'm [email protected] and would welcome a dialogue.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this Kaiser Health News piece

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