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Report: $2 billion spent annually for Medicaid emergencies, largely for illegal immigrant baby deliveries

Federal law generally bars illegal immigrants from being covered by Medicaid.  But a little-known part of the state-federal health insurance program for the poor has long paid about $2 billion a year for emergency treatment for a group of patients who, according to hospitals, mostly comprise illegal immigrants.

The lion’s share goes to reimburse hospitals for delivering babies for women who show up in their emergency rooms, according to interviews with hospital officials and studies.

The funding — which has been around since the late 1980s and is less than 1 percent of the cost of Medicaid — underscores the political and practical challenges of refusing to cover an entire class of people. Congress approved the program after lawmakers required hospitals to screen and stabilize all emergency patients regardless of their insurance or citizenship status.

Some groups say the services encourage people to cross the border for care, while advocates for immigrants say the funding is inadequate because it doesn’t pay for prenatal care and other vital services.

“We can’t turn them away,” said Joanne Aquilina, the chief financial officer of Bethesda Healthcare System in Boynton Beach, Fla., which sees many illegal immigrants because of its proximity to farms where they harvest sugarcane and other seasonal crops.

Nearly one-third of Bethesda Hospital East’s 2,900 births each year are paid for by Emergency Medicaid, the category that covers mainly illegal immigrants. The category includes a small proportion of homeless people and legal immigrants who’ve been in the country less than five years. Read more of the article here.

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