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Foreign Visitors Overloading U.S. Hospitals

by Jose Latour

The Miami Herald posted an article on January 8, which Maddy forwarded to me, regarding the impact that uninsured foreign nationals are having on Florida hospitals, and the numbers are rather distressing. I've told you folks about the difficulties we as Floridians (and others in California, New York, and other high-immigration states) are experiencing as a result of illegal aliens who migrate to the United States and put their children in public schools, further straining the school systems without contributing to the budgets via property taxes, etc. This is another variation of that same issue, one I really had not considered before. Maddy sent it my way and thought that I should share it with you guys, and being in agreement, I am doing so.

According to The Herald article, in Central and South Florida, the major destinations for international visitors and undocumented immigrants, the pressures arising from unexpected hospital visits by uninsured and financially incapable patients are presenting tremendous problems to Florida's healthcare institutions. The Florida Hospital Association conducted a survey which revealed that some 40.2 million dollars were spent in the state to treat uninsured foreign nationals in the last year alone. Bear in mind that this represents only those hospitals which participated in the survey; many hospitals didn't even participate so the actual figure is probably much higher.

The article, by Alfonso Chardy, indicated that the survey was the first comprehensive assessment of what hospital administrators view as a disturbing trend: undocumented immigrants or legal foreign visitors who show up at emergency rooms with serious illnesses and wind up hospitalized for considerable amounts of time without any money to cover the bills. Guess who foots the bill? U.S. taxpayers, who eventually wind up covering the costs assumed by hospitals.

As one would expect, Mr. Chardy's article reported that states with large foreign populations, including California, Texas, and Illinois, report similar problems. He also indicated that the U.S. government's General Accounting Office is conducting a national survey via its congressional investigative arm.

More disturbing: the survey suggested that some foreign nationals are coming to the U.S. on tourist visas specifically to seek medical care when they don't have insurance or money to pay the hospital costs. The direct language of the survey:

"Non-citizens or their children with severe diseases obtain tourist visas, either legally or illegally, and take taxis directly from airports to hospital emergency rooms."

And you wonder why so many anti-immigration advocates are raising bloody hell. I live and breathe pro-immigration and when I see stuff like this, I have a real problem with it... you do too... admit it.

Listen to this: the spokeswoman for Jackson Memorial Hospital - the be-all and end-all of Miami's hard-lined hospitals, which addresses both the most complex cases and the poorest of indigents - had some real opinions on this topic. (When I was in high school and President of the Coral Gables Key Club, we used to give Thanksgiving dinner at the paraplegic unit of the Jackson Memorial Hospital residential unit. It was the saddest, most depressing and traumatic experience of my youth in that I met some of the most jaded disabled people as well as some of the most miraculously joyful beings I have ever encountered on this planet, some of whom had been born without arms or legs. You cannot imagine the reality of Jackson Memorial Hospital until you have walked its halls as a wide-eyed 16-year-old, as I did.)

The spokeswoman, Conchita Ruiz-Topinka, said in the article that Jackson spent:

"$51 million caring for 6,600 undocumented and 3,300 legal- born nationals living in Miami-Dade County in fiscal year 2001, part of the $300 million the hospital spent caring for people who could not reimburse the institution."

These are difficult and painful issues to discuss, but one answer remains clear, no matter how big your heart, no matter how dedicated one is to immigrants: the United States simply cannot afford to finance the medical care of persons who willfully violate U.S. immigration laws and come to this nation for medical care when costs are to be borne by U.S. taxpayers unwilling to bear them.

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice representing corporations nationwide in visa management, compliance, and HR training. The above represents Mr. Latour's Editorial opinion. The A/V rated firm and its web site,, were named a winner of the 2002 Inc. Magazine Web Award, receiving recognition along with 14 other companies as the best Web companies in America. In 1999, the firm was named "One of Americas Top Ten Internet/Virtual Companies" in the Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems "Growing with Technology Awards." The site is one of the most visited and widely read resource on the Internet on U.S. immigration law, attracting subscribers from all over the world, the media and from within the U.S. government. Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.