Since July 2008, Los Angeles County has spent more than $28 million in state and federal funds to screen for illegal immigrants who obtained health care services from Medi-Cal, the public health care program for low income residents. So far, they have not found a single person, and fewer than 1 percent of the people screened lack the proper documents,reports Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times. Most of those were eventually able to produce them.
Among new applicants, a handful of cheaters have been snared, about 0.1 percent of the total.
“It’s been a big effort without a whole lot of payback,” said Deborah Walker, the county’s Medi-Cal program director.
Regardless, $28 million could buy a lot of health care. But supporters of the program say if you don’t monitor that closely, you invite massive cheating.
“The point of this is not to catch people, it’s to deter them and potentially save tons of money,” said Steven A. Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based research organization that advocates immigration restrictions. “If you don’t have these systems, you might have hundreds of thousands of illegals trying to get health benefits.”
Immigrant advocates disagree. They argue that stricter verification rules, such as those implemented last year in Los Angeles County, have proven costly, ineffective and ultimately harmful to U.S. citizens who may be deprived of healthcare because they lack the required documents.
It’s a difficult issue. Forcing undocumented residents out of the system means forcing them into more expensive care in the emergency room. A report by the Contra Costa Times recently estimated that the state pays more than $1 billion annually to cover the cost of health care when illegal residents seek emergency room care for life-threatening circumstances and for childbirth.
— Rita Hibbard