Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Health care for illegal immigrants

Pay a little now, or a lot later. It's that simple. In a previous blog post about irrational health care bills, I wrote:

"Illegal immigrants get sick too, and they end up going to U.S. emergency rooms when their health problems become too serious to ignore. The high-risk premature delivery that could have been prevented by routine prenatal care, and the heart attack that could have been prevented by controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels (which primary care does very well and cheaply, given the opportunity), instead become expensive, catastrophic emergency visits, which are charged to your hospital, and therefore your health insurance, and therefore, you. Immigration policy is an important and divisive issue, but it should be separated from the issue of public health and the health reform debate."

Unfortunately, it appears that the only issue in health care reform that both liberals and conservatives actually agree on is that illegal immigrants should be excluded from coverage. This is a terrible mistake, regardless of one's political or ideological leanings. If we hope to ever stop undocumented workers from using hospital emergency rooms as their primary source of (overpriced, poorly coordinated) primary care, then every person living in the U.S. must have access to an affordable family physician under health care reform. (Notice that I wrote affordable, not free.)

A recent article in Newsweek argues that insuring illegal immigrants could actually drive down the cost of medical premiums, since this population is typically younger and has fewer chronic medical problems than American citizens. Also, requiring all workers to be insured regardless of immigration status would reduce or eliminate the income disparity that currently makes it attractive to hire undocumented immigrants, rather than citizens, for certain jobs.

Yes, Rep. Joe Wilson is an idiot, but I actually hope he was right - health reform will be better off if President Obama was lying about illegal immigrants not being included in health care reform.

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