Even though federal law largely bars illegal immigrants from obtaining Medicaid coverage, the program annually pays out more than $2 billion in free emergency coverage that mostly goes to illegal immigrants, according to Kaiser Health News.
The vast majority of the total emergency care reimbursements cover delivering babies, Kaiser reports.
Based on a Kaiser data analysis of the states believed to have the greatest populations of illegal immigrants — including California, New York, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Illinois and Florida — more than 100,000 people annually receive emergency care that is reimbursed by Medicaid.
California, Kaiser’s analysis showed, receives approximately half of the annual $2 billion Medicaid expenditure category.
That category of Medicaid also covers some homeless people and legal immigrants who have been in the country less than five years — and are therefore mostly ineligible for Medicaid, according to Kaiser.
“We can’t turn them away,” Joanne Aquilina, the chief financial officer of Bethesda Healthcare System in Boynton Beach, Fla., told Kaiser.
Nearly one-third of Bethesda Hospital East’s annual 2,900 births are paid for by emergency Medicaid funding.
According to a 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association report, an analysis of claims reimbursed by Emergency Medicaid over a four-year period in North Carolina revealed that 99 percent of the 48,391 individual cases went toward services for illegal immigrants.
Kaiser reports that hospitals generally realize when patients are illegal immigrants, even though they do not explicitly ask them their status, because they do not possess a Social Security Number, birth certificate or other documents.
“We gather information to qualify patients for something and through that process, if you really hit a dead end, you know they are illegal,” Steve Short, the chief financial officer at Tampa General Hospital, told Kaiser.