A recent report by an advocacy group claims that U.S. hospitals have sent hundreds of illegal immigrants back to their home countries rather than foot the bill for uncompensated care, through a process known as "medical repatriation."


The Center for Social Justice and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest have documented at least 600 immigrants who were involuntarily removed from the country in the past five years for medical reasons, according to an Associated Press article featured by insurance journal LifeHealthPro.

In one of these cases, the article said, officials at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines in 2010 paid to fly two unconscious Mexican workers back to Mexico with the families' consent, days after they had been severely injured in an automobile accident.

The two men had health insurance from jobs at one of the nation's largest pork producers. But neither had legal permission to live in the United States, nor was it clear whether their insurance would pay for the long-term rehabilitation they needed, according to the article.

Health care executives say they are caught between a requirement to accept all patients and a political battle over immigration.

"It really is a Catch-22 for us," said Dr. Mark Purtle, vice president of Medical Affairs for UnityPoint Health - Des Moines, which includes Iowa Methodist Medical Center, in the article. "This is the area that the federal government, the state, everybody says we're not paying for the undocumented."

Comprehensive immigration reform could make millions more people eligible for assistance under the federal health-care overhaul, if Congress approves a final deal for undocumented immigrants to receive papers. Illegal aliens are now prohibited from purchasing coverage through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges, which will launch next year.

Advocates for immigrants are concerned that hospitals could soon begin expanding the practice due to reductions in federal payments for uninsured patients that will occur when the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect next year.


"While our nation's leaders struggle to determine immigration policies for the undocumented, U.S. hospitals care for all who enter their emergency rooms,"UnityPoint Health officials said in an emailed statement to the Business Record. "In this particular case, the patients were well cared for and we worked with families and the Mexican consulate to get them close to home for rehabilitation."

Hospitals are acute care facilities and should not be viewed as long-term care facility for any patient, UnityPoint officials said. "It is always our goal to make sure that the appropriate level of care is provided in the appropriate setting and we firmly believe that patients heal best when they have family support."   

The families of the men who were returned to Mexico filed suit against the hospital in 2010, but the case was dismissed last year and that decision was upheld by an appeals court.  


Read the full article here.