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[Congressional Record: July 25, 2001 (Extensions)]
[Page E1428]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []
                            HON. GENE GREEN

                                of texas

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, July 25, 2001

  Mr. GREEN of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce legislation 
which would allow states and localities to provide primary and 
preventive health care services to undocumented residents.
  According to some estimates, there are as many as nine million 
undocumented residents currently living in the United States. The 
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 
(PRWORA) prohibits public hospitals from providing free or discounted 
preventive service to undocumented immigrants--even if they pay for 
such services with State or local funds. PRWORA does, however, allow 
public hospitals to provide emergency room services.
  This system has created a crisis in our nation's emergency rooms. 
Because undocumented residents cannot afford to see the doctor for 
routine physicals and preventive medicine, they arrive in the emergency 
room with costlier, often preventable, health problems. The Federation 
for American Immigration Reform estimates that 29 percent of this 
population uses hospital and other emergency services in a given year, 
compared to the 11 percent use by the general U.S. population.
  The costs of this broken system are especially burdensome for our 
nation's public hospitals. Harris County Hospital District, in my 
hometown of Houston, Texas, estimates that emergency room care for 
undocumented residents cost taxpayers, insurance companies, and 
patients $225 million over the last three years. Hospitals in New York 
State provide a total uncompensated care for undocumented residents of 
$300 million to $380 million each year--almost one third of 
uncompensated care for the state.
  Mr. Speaker, people should not enter any nation illegally, But I 
cannot understand a health care system that forces patients to let 
their health problems escalate into full fledged emergencies before it 
will provide them care. Wouldn't it make more economic sense to cover 
preventive services rather than let illnesses develop into painful and 
expensive complications? Most importantly, should the federal 
government be telling states and localities how they can and can't 
spend their own health care dollars?
  That is why I am introducing legislation which would allow--not 
require--state and local programs to provide preventive and primary 
health care to undocumented aliens. This legislation would not provide 
a new benefit for undocumented residents. However, it would make sure 
that our health care dollars are spent more wisely by preventing 
emergencies--not treating them.