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Sick Illegal Immigrants Get Sent Back by U.S. Hospitals

Update Date: Apr 23, 2013 02:49 PM EDT

The United States health care system is far from perfect, constantly dealing with issues of medical costs and care. Due to the expenses of health insurance, many people end up living uninsured, and when they are forced to seek care, their medical bills end up being paid for by the government or ignored by the patients. This vicious cycle threatens the monetary stability of every one involved. A recent report revealed the negative side effects of this vicious cycle with more and more hospitals sending illegal immigrant patients back to their home countries.

Due to the lack of insurance, hospitals are conflicted with the decision to treat illegal immigrants since they know that bills might go unpaid. Although doctors are supposed to treat any ailing patient regardless of their insurance or legal statuses, it appears that more hospitals are opting to send these patients back to their home countries, where they can seek treatment there instead. In one specific case, the Iowa Methodist Medical Center located in Des Moines flew two car accident survivors, who were illegal immigrants, back to Mexico where they could receive long-term treatment for their conditions. Both men were left in a comatose state after their accident, and the length of their treatments and the possible buildup of bills forced the hospital to make the decision, after consulting the patients' families, to fly them back to their home country.

Although this incidence sounds surreal, it actually happens more than one would think. According to a new report presented by immigrant advocacy groups, nearly 600 illegal immigrants over the span of five years have been sent to their home countries for treatments after the hospitals decided that they could not risk the costs of treating them. These hospitals bypass the federal agency and courts when they make the decision to privately transport these illegal patients to their respective countries.

"The problem is it's all taking place in this unregulated sort of a black hole...and there is no tracking," commented Lori Nessel, the director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School. Nessel, who is a law professor, gives free legal representation to immigrants. This method, known as medical repatriation, often occurs when the patients require long-term medical needs as a result of being in an unconscious state. Hospitals are also paying for these flights, knowing that the flight costs will be significantly less than the medical costs.

This new report continues the long debate regarding the rights of illegal immigrants living in the United States. Immigrant advocacy groups fear that more hospitals will adopt this practice of medical repatriation, while hospitals fear the build up of medical fees and costs in treating illegal patients. Like all debates on immigration, this new one involving hospitals will continue for sure.

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