Is Breaking the Healthcare System
By Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-CA24)
Illegal immigration is the number one reason our healthcare system is on life support. Hospitals and emergency rooms across the United States are closing, but they are shutting in the areas with the highest rate of illegal immigration. For example, Los Angeles has a huge illegal immigration population and one-third of the patients treated in Los Angeles' county health system are illegal immigrants.
That's why, in the past year alone, six emergency rooms have been forced to close in Los Angeles. In the past decade, California lost 65 emergency rooms to the overwhelming burden of caring for illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigrants generally work low-wage jobs without benefits. Because illegal immigrants don't carry health insurance, they use emergency rooms for primary care-the most expensive health care available.
In fact, if we removed illegal immigrants from the equation, the number of "uninsured Americans" the media keeps touting would plummet, because 76 percent of naturalized citizens and 81 percent of native-born Americans have employment-based health insurance.
In Fiscal Year 2001, the total cost for emergency medical care for illegal immigrants in California was more than $648 million. At the same time, the California Association of Public Hospitals notes that California's public hospitals face a $600 million a year budget deficit. It doesn't take a mathematician to see how eliminating illegal immigration would turn a deficit into a surplus.
But this is not just a California problem. In the last decade, as illegal immigration has skyrocketed, so have visits to emergency rooms-up 20 percent. Pennsylvania and New Jersey hospitals provided nearly $2 billion in free emergency and short-term care to uninsured patients in 2002, a large share of whom were illegal immigrants. In South Carolina, hospitals have been left with at least $4 million in unpaid maternity bills from illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigration threatens America's health in other ways, as well. Tuberculosis was virtually wiped out in the United States by 1983. It is on the rise again because of unfettered illegal immigration. One individual in central California, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was responsible for infecting at least 56 other people before he was incarcerated for forced treatment earlier this year.
In 1996, the John Hopkins Center for Tuberculosis Research estimated it cost $13,000 to treat each case of TB. That means it cost U.S. taxpayers $741,000 in 1996 dollars to stem the epidemic caused by a single illegal immigrant.
But, as frightening as that is, it's only the tip of the iceberg. About 53 percent of the people diagnosed in the United States each year with TB are born outside the U.S. In the Los Angeles area, 80 percent of people infected with TB are foreign-born, with Mexico leading the way, followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, India and China.
I believe illegal immigrants should be treated for life-threatening illnesses and accidents. But once they are stabilized, they should be deported to their native lands. It is not compassionate to destroy our health care system.