Lucia Bill, Honorable Mention Award 2003-2004
Young Steward of Public Policy
Honorable Mention 2003-2004
"Immigrant Health Care Issues"
By Lucia Bill
Mountain View High School
Arizona's geopolitical location as well its cultural background has been the cause of numerous ideological clashes, including the debate over illegal immigration. In recent months the allocation of funds for health care for illegal immigrants in Arizona has been brought to national attention. Politicians from all sides of the spectrum, including Governor Janet Napolitano have contributed their concern for the economic burden this issue has become for Arizona, already experiencing one of the most rampant budgets deficits in the United States.
Between 1 and 2 million people entered Arizona illegally in 2001, and it is estimated Arizona hospitals spent at least $44 million in uncompensated health care for illegal aliens, a $13 million increase from the previous year. Immigration is a solely federal issue as are all the laws pertaining health care and immigrants. For example, "humanitarian parole" allows foreigners at the border who are in need of emergency care to be admitted into the US to receive treatment. Another unfunded federal mandate is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, known as EMTALA which requires emergency rooms to treat all patients seeking medical attention regardless of their immigration status. Altogether, this has cost the Border States 190 million dollars in 2001, with the entire financial burden shifted onto state and local governments. Many Arizona border hospitals are forced to cut already sparse staff, shut down, or even abandon the region altogether, jeopardizing the availability of emergency health care for all those seeking it. In January of 2003 the Arizona delegation to the Legislative branch, including Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl requested an additional $200 million to be included in the President's 2004 fiscal year budget. Although a worthy goal and a step in the right direction, this reimbursement of the Border States is only a drop in the bucket of what must be done to solve this very expensive dilemma. There is no question about the fact that health care is one of the great benefits of a society as prosperous and developed as ours, and ought to be available for those seeking it. Nevertheless, this problem mainly targets Border States which have no jurisdiction over the federal regulations which control immigration. Consequently, the approach to be taken to resolve this problem should be twofold. First, on the federal level, Arizona legislators should encourage the modification of the unfunded mandate statutes permanently, making federal aid to Border States, including Arizona, annual. Furthermore, the role of the INS ought to be expanded to help Arizona share the responsibility to provide medical care. This could be accomplished by creating Border Patrol medical stations which take care of those in need of emergency care on the spot without having to pay for transport and extensive follow up care. On the local level, the State can utilize its large religious sector by employing the recently enacted faith based initiative to involve more private and social organizations in sharing the cost and of care for illegal patients. The State legislature may also work with Universities and graduate programs to provide incentive for graduate students in the medical field through offering internships or credit for time spent aiding illegal immigrants. This would not only prove beneficial economically, but provide future Arizona professionals with a priceless language and cultural experience.