USA: Williamson County to stop footing health care bills of ID-less indigent people
And so it begins. More and more States and Counties are starting to copy Arizona – because they’re going broke. Money talks and if you’re not legal then that’s the chance you take. The party had to end sometime….
Williamson County commissioners have decided to stop paying health care costs for indigent adults and children who don’t have valid Social Security cards.
County Judge Dan A. Gattis said last week that he wanted to ensure that there was enough money for the residents of Williamson County who qualified for indigent care to remain covered. In the first five months of the current fiscal year, 265 people who didn’t have Social Security cards received county-paid health care out of a total of 1,153 indigent patients , said Bride Roberts , the coordinator for Williamson County’s indigent health care system.
The decision — which came in a unanimous vote on April 27 — was not based on race, Gattis said.
“We are running out of money,” he said.
The county is required by the state to pay up to 8 percent of its general tax revenue annually for indigent health care, which is $7.1 million this fiscal year, Roberts said.
Williamson County has spent the $4 million it budgeted for indigent health care costs this year — equal to about 4.5 percent of general tax revenue — during the first six months of the current fiscal year, which started in October, Roberts said, adding that county commissioners appropriated more than $3 million more at their April 27 meeting.
The county’s indigent health care expenses have risen from $1 million in fiscal year 2000 to $5.4 million in fiscal year 2009, according to county records. The expense is projected to reach $9.4 million in the current fiscal year, Roberts said, which would equal 10.5 percent of the general tax revenue budget.
Roberts said there were several reasons for the increased expense, including a large number of “very sick” people and new hospitals in the area identifying more people who may qualify for the program.
Williamson County residents without legal Social Security cards can still get care at four clinics in Georgetown, 10 clinics in Round Rock and one in Granger, all operated by Lone Star Circle of Care, a nonprofit community health organization, said Rebekah Haynes, the group’s communications director.
Roberts said patients without valid Social Security cards accounted for 12 percent of the $3.7 million spent under the program in the first five months of the fiscal year. During fiscal year 2009, 1,505 people were covered, and 331 of those didn’t have valid Social Security cards , she said.
The county estimated that it can save $1 million a year by denying coverage to people without legal Social Security cards, Roberts said.
Medicaid doesn’t cover health care costs for adults and children without legal Social Security cards. Texas law doesn’t address whether counties can exclude people without legal Social Security cards, said Anne Dunkelberg, the associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.
“Virtually all counties do include undocumented residents in their county indigent health care programs,” said Dunkelberg, who called the county’s decision “a bad idea.”
“Making sure you are providing good access to prenatal care is extremely important because all babies are U.S. citizens,” she said.
Steve Mason, a member of the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, said he supported the commissioners’ decision. “I think people in this country illegally shouldn’t get any services,” he said.
The county’s indigent health care program covers up to $30,000 per year in costs for doctors, hospitals, clinics, lab work, prescriptions and diagnostic testing for people with incomes equal to 21 percent or less of the federal poverty level, which works out to a monthly income of $190 or less for a single person, Roberts said.
Before commissioners passed the April 27 change in coverage, applicants were asked if they were legal residents when they filled out the forms for the programs, Roberts said. Now, Social Security cards must be presented and will be verified through an online broker.
Jose Medina, a media coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the organization was concerned about how the county was going to verify Social Security information.
“These data brokers are not always reliable,” he said. “We are concerned that in adding the verification, the program is cutting off funding to indigent individuals who are the most vulnerable and the people who need it the most.”
Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long also said race didn’t play a role in the decision, and she said low-income people without legal Social Security cards will be able to get medical help through local emergency rooms.
Travis County serves people without valid Social Security cards in its indigent health care program because the state only requires that applicants prove county residency, said Mike McKinnon, a spokesman for Central Health, formerly called the Travis County Healthcare District.
But other states, including Oklahoma, are attempting to implement provisions similar to the one in Williamson County, said T. Douglas Stump, a member of the executive committee for American Immigration Lawyers.
“Without a federal solution to our nation’s broken immigration system, state and local policymakers are taking medicine into their own hands by drafting initiatives aimed at perceived threats and costs caused by undocumented immigrants,” said Stump, who lives in Oklahoma City.
“Statistically, the vast majority of immigrants are paying taxes and Social Security is taken from their paychecks,” Stump said. “The real tragedy is a large share of the undocumented who would be denied these benefits are schoolchildren.”