During a Feb. 28 congressional hearing, senior health executive Dr. Robert Trenschel spotlighted the soaring cost of health care for the surge of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. southern frontier.
In 2022, U.S. officials encountered more than 2 million illegal migrants trying to cross into the United States. This represents a considerable spike since 2021, with 1.7 million encounters.
According to Trenschel, many of these illegal immigrants require extensive hospital stays. On average, the doctor said they cost up to three times more in human resources to resolve their cases and provide a safe discharge.
“Some [illegal] migrants come with minor ailments, but many of them come in with significant disease,” Trenschel said during the hearing.
Many Illegal Migrants ‘Very Sick’
“We’ve had migrants patients on dialysis, cardiac catheterization, and in need of heart surgery. Many are very sick.”
Trenschel is the president and CEO of the Yuma Regional Medical Center in Arizona. His 406-bed hospital is the only acute care facility within a three-hour drive, making it the obvious choice for illegal immigrants in the area suffering from health problems.
Yuma is a town within striking distance of the Mexican border and has just under 100,000 residents in the city. For comparison, Trenschel noted more than 300,000 illegal aliens had crossed the border near his town in the past year.
And in that 12-month window, the Yuma Regional Medical Center has accrued more than $26 million in unpaid medical services to illegal immigrants.
Though this isn’t a new problem.
One 2018 estimate for the cost of services provided to 3.9 million uninsured illegal immigrants totaled $4.6 billion in care funded by U.S. tax dollars.
Many of these aren’t quick-fix emergency room visits either.
Some who cross the U.S. southern border suffer from exposure-related concerns like dehydration, but Trenchel says many of the people treated at his facility have “long-term complications of chronic disease that haven’t been cared for.”
He says many illegal migrants who enter the country and need medical assistance end up staying in the ICU ward for 60 days or more.
A large portion of the patients is pregnant women who’ve had little to no prenatal treatment. This has resulted in excess babies being born requiring neonatal care for 30 days or longer.
In response, legislator Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said, “With 4.7 million [illegal] migrants who need health care, everyone pays higher insurance premiums as this care has ultimately got to be paid for.”
It’s also an unsustainable business model, according to Trenschel.
Auxiliary Support Not Paid For
“No business or service can survive ongoing large-scale expense without any offsetting revenue,” he said.
Trenschel added that the $26 million in unpaid medical services to illegal immigrants didn’t include all auxiliary support provided.
He noted his facility has had to pay for hospital transfers, hotels, emergency air transport, car seats, and more just to get patients out the door and free up hospital beds.
“None of these expenses are included in the $26-million-dollar figure,” Trenschel said.
The doctor’s testimony is an echo heard more frequently in recent months as the migration crisis at the U.S. southern border continues to escalate.
Other states struggling with the burden of unpaid medical bills in the wake of illegal immigrant health care include Florida, California, and Texas
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