Osama's medical welcome mat

Posted: Jan 02, 2002 12:00 AM
Where could Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind with bad kidneys and a shrinking bank account, be hiding? Well, if you were an ailing foreigner in need of sanctuary and free medical treatment, it's obvious where you would turn: America. Thanks largely to politicians who just can't say no to ethnic special interests, we have become the land of the limitless health-care handout for "undocumented immigrants." Just before Christmas, the Arizona state Legislature approved nearly $3 million in public funds to cover kidney dialysis treatment and cancer chemotherapy for illegal aliens. Meanwhile, many indigent senior citizens -- American citizens -- must abide by stricter limits, fewer choices, and rising prices on everything from earpieces to walkers to pain medications under their government health-care coverage. It's not just border states that have been hit hard. In North Carolina, the Medicaid emergency services program averages 221 new cases involving aliens every month -- a large number of whom are illegal, according to one state official. Last year, those services cost taxpayers $31.9 million. In Chicago, one hospital alone is footing a $650,000 bill this year for organ and stem cell transplants (plus post-care treatment) for three illegal alien children. The hospital will receive no federal or state reimbursement for the care -- which it is forced by federal law to provide when "undocumented" patients show up at the emergency room. Like other medical care providers across the country, the hospital is grappling with massive Medicaid budget cuts that will curtail services for American citizens whose money supports the system in the first place. Opponents of free medical care for chronically ill illegal aliens are naturally cast as heartless penny-pinchers. But just how much compassion for non-citizens can this country afford? And how long will taxpayers tolerate such unfair appropriations of money from law-abiding Americans to law-breaking foreigners? Dave Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reform Immigration, notes: "Emergency medical treatment is one thing, but we just can't leave a wide-open door and expect American taxpayers to foot the bill all the time." Indeed, states, localities, hospitals and clinics are hemorrhaging financially as they struggle to treat sick illegal aliens who exploit loopholes, evade law enforcement, and game the system to secure free health care not available in their home countries. Karen Johnson, a Republican legislator from Mesa, Ariz., makes the injustice of such alien entitlement policies clear: "We have just had to cut budgets for health care programs for U.S. citizens, and now we're being asked to give deference to people who are not citizens. I don't understand that. We need to take care of our own." When Congress reformed welfare in 1996, it banned Medicaid benefits to illegal aliens except on an "emergency" basis. The next year, Washington earmarked $25 million in federal aid for emergency health services to a dozen states with the largest illegal alien populations in the country. It wasn't enough. It's never enough for those who feel entitled to that which they don't deserve. For the past five years, welfare activists have labored mightily to stretch the definition of "emergency" so as to render the ban meaningless. Joseph V. Truhe Jr., corporate counsel for Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., writes that children's hospitals nationwide are reporting illegal alien patients "with cancer, heart defects, liver and kidney failure, leukemia, spina bifida, osteomyelitis, lupus and other conditions arriving at emergency rooms from nearly every continent, requiring organ transplants, chemotherapy, long-term dialysis, and other expensive treatments." Many cross the border illegally; others obtain fraudulent visas by concealing their medical conditions; and sometimes, savvy patients' families pass "through several intermediate countries" to avoid scrutiny. Once here, these lawbreakers abuse both our hospitals and our hospitality by soaking up precious public resources, burning through charity care funds, and even suing medical providers for giving them "substandard" care when their tax-subsidized treatments don't work. It's time for the feds to step up and pull the plug on interminable health benefits for illegal aliens. The State Department should seek reimbursement from the home countries of the most expensive, chronically ill patients. The Immigration and Naturalization Service should get serious about deportation. And we Americans should all stop apologizing for wanting to prevent our home from becoming a safe haven for sickly moochers from around the world.