In October, I linked to an article about how Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta was closing its dialysis clinics due to the significant financial burden. Grady has agreed to pay for the patients to receive dialysis at a private dialysis clinic until January 3, 2010, but after that, the patients are on their own.
After Grady’s announcement, approximately 50 illegal immigrants sued to keep the clinic open, alleging that closing of the clinic “violated their constitutional right to the health care service” and that closing the clinic amounted to “medical abandonment.”
The court held that the plaintiffs had neither a state nor a federal constitutional right to outpatient dialysis services and that Grady Memorial was not legally bound to provide those services.
The attorney representing the patients stated that she realizes that some people don’t believe the patients are entitled to such care because they are illegal immigrants. “They are human beings, and we all have the right to live.” The attorney also stated that “these people are going to die without this.”
The lawyer misrepresented the plight of the patients. Under current federal law, renal failure patients will always have access to hemodialysis, and that access will likely be more expensive than the current system that Grady uses. I called this one seven months ago.
High levels of potassium in a dialysis patient is an emergency medical condition. Under federal EMTALA laws, hospitals are required to provide stabilizing treatment to anyone with an emergency medical condition that seeks medical care in an emergency department. All the patients have to do is call “911” and they will get door-to-door service to the hospital via ambulance, will get a bunch of expensive testing done to document their elevated potassium, will likely be admitted to the hospital, and will still get their dialysis.
The situation raises a second question, though: Should we be providing uncompensated care to illegal aliens?
I think that the answer should be “yes” – with an asterisk.
If people are violating federal laws, they should suffer the same consequences as anyone else who violates any other federal law. In this case, provide the patients with dialysis, contact police, take the patients into custody, and then initiate deportation proceedings – or whatever other action is appropriate under federal law.
If hospital personnel become aware that a patient has committed a crime, we already call police from the emergency department.
A patient has a gunshot wound? We call the police to report it.
A patient may be the victim of domestic abuse? We file a police report.
A patient in a car accident has an elevated blood alcohol level? We notify the police.
How hard would it be to contact the police to verify someone’s identity if a patient is unable or unwilling to provide a state-issued identification? Not only would doing so determine whether or not a person is in the country legally, but it would cut down significantly on health care fraudsters who obtain care in the emergency department using a fictitious name and fictitious address and then stiff the hospital for the bill.
If we don’t want to enforce our laws, that’s fine.
Then we need to stop complaining about providing care to those who violate the laws.