As part of this week’s installment of the “Senate Doctor’s Show,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) claimed that uninsured undocumented immigrants who seek emergency hospital care have created a situation that’s “just like a store where there’s a lot of shoplifting.” Based on this logic, Barrasso also concludes that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t even be allowed to purchase insurance with their own money:
When I talked to high school groups and they ask about this [undocumented immigrant emergency care], I kinda refer to it just like a store where there’s a lot of shoplifting. The owner of the store has to raise the prices for people who pay their own bills — who pay their own way — to make up for what they lose in shoplifting. These folks in the emergency room aren’t shoplifting in the terms of stealing things, but they are using services getting bandages and casts and all sorts of different things and they’re not paying for it. Then the question is, how do you do that?
And a reporter asked me, should we sell illegal immigrants health insurance to pay the way? I don’t think you want to give that kind of — any certification to somebody who is in our nation illegally — somebody who has broken into the country. They broke the law by coming here illegally. And I think that applies to Social Security, I think it applies to drivers’ licenses, as well as to health insurance.
Clearly, Barrasso wasn’t thinking of the 30 million or more uninsured US citizens when describing uninsured undocumented immigrants who can’t pay their hospital bills as “shoplifters.” It turns out that all noncitizens are far less likely than their native-born counterparts to use the emergency room. Communities with low rates of emergency room use tend to have much higher concentrations of noncitizens than areas with high rates of emergency room use. So if Barrasso is really concerned about uninsured “shoplifters” driving up health care costs for those who do have coverage, it might make sense for him to support health care reform that guarantees that all those uninsured individuals have health insurance.
Of course, Barrasso is proposing just the opposite when it comes to undocumented immigrants. Despite the fact that immigrants are healthier than US citizens, use less medical care, use less expensive care, and do not impose a disproportionate financial burden on the US health care system; Barrasso stubbornly holds that those undocumented immigrants who can afford health insurance shouldn’t even be allowed to purchase it because it would somehow “certify” their presence in the country.
The White House has indicated that it supports barring undocumented immigrants from participating in the government exchange and purchasing insurance at full cost. However, the President has indicated that a “basic standard of decency” is reason enough to continue providing undocumented immigrants in a “death situation” or suffering from a “severe illness” emergency care.