Trend: Hospitals deporting uninsured immigrants

When an American citizen with health insurance--either commercial or government-backed--is seriously injured or sick, hospitals receive meaningful reimbursement for their care, even if they don't get as much money they want. But when an uninsured illegal immigrant is seriously ill, hospitals may get nothing. And when the patient is ready for discharge, hospitals can seldom find a rehab facility or nursing home to provide follow-up care--which often means that the hospital, without an appropriate place for discharge, keeps patients for months or years as a ward. Nobody pays these million-dollar bills. That's the case, in part, because the government won't pay for care for illegal immigrants, temporary legal immigrants or legal residents with less than five years in the U.S.

Lately, in response to these financial pressures, it's become more common to send such patients back to their home country, with or without their consent. Some patient families and attorneys call this patient dumping, but hospitals say they're just doing what they must to preserve their financial viability. While the practice isn't tremendously common, it does seem to be widespread, according to observers. No statistics exist on how often this happens, but it does appear that hospitals that see high volumes of illegal immigrants a year may engage in dozens of repatriations. The practice is so common that at least one repatriation company, California's MexCare, has emerged to serve these patients and help hospitals rid themselves of their burdens.

Recently, a legal decision in the case of one traumatically-injured Guatemalan worker, Luis Jimenez, may have changed the landscape somewhat. Mr. Jimenez was shipped to Guatemala by Martin Memorial Hospital of Stuart, FL, despite having an attorney who argued that the hospital was duty-bound to pay for his rehabilitation if need be. Since then, a decision by an appellate court held that since the hospital had no evidence Jimenez would get adequate care in Guatemala, they hadn't met federal requirements for discharge. Attorneys believe this case could change the way such deportations are regarded legally.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this piece in The New York Times

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