A South Carolina bill that would make it illegal to transport undocumented persons to a hospital and other legislative efforts to deny medical services to immigrants have prompted calls from the American College of Physicians (ACP) for a national policy to override such state rules.
"We need to have some way to make sure everybody gets healthcare," said Virginia Hood, MD, president of the ACP and an internist with Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, VT. "There [are] all kinds of legislation and regulations coming out at the state level which could have an effect on the provision of healthcare for immigrants, and we think this isn't something that can be dealt with on a state-by-state basis. There needs to be a national strategy."
The South Carolina bill, she says, "would make it illegal to transport immigrants to a hospital anywhere."
Other legislation introduced in several other states, she says, would dictate that "before someone could be treated in an emergency room, or even after they're treated, immigration status should be documented or reported," she says. This inappropriately turns doctors and paramedics into immigration officials.
There are efforts to deny healthcare to children born in this country if their parents are undocumented as well, she says.
In a lengthy position paper the ACP, which represents 126,000 internal medicine practitioners, calls for seven steps to assure the 12 million undocumented immigrants can get care they need:
1. Adopt a national policy. Individual state laws will not be adequate and will result in a patchwork solution.
2. Do not restrict healthcare on the basis of immigration status. Do not restrict immigrants from paying out-of-pocket for health insurance coverage.