May 21, 2004

Democrats Lead the Charge in Defeating Rohrabacher Anti-Hispanic Bill

WASHINGTON, DC — House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) applauded the sound defeat — by a vote of 331-88 — of H.R. 3722, the Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendments of 2004, authored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), amending Section 1011 of last year’s Medicare bill, which provided federal funds to reimburse physicians and hospitals for emergency health services to undocumented individuals. H.R. 3722 would have required health care providers to report undocumented patients as a condition of receiving reimbursement for emergency services to undocumented immigrants, and would have imposed new burdensome and costly requirements on hospitals and turn doctors and nurses into immigration officers.

According to the legislation, in order to get reimbursed, health care providers would need to: obtain signed statements from patients under penalty of perjury regarding their citizenship, immigration status, address, financial data, identity of current employer; obtain a digital electronic identifier (fingerprint or other biometric identifier) for the purpose of verifying the identity and immigration status of the immigrant; and transmit the above information in a digital electronic format to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Providers would be required to maintain the original documents for inspection by DHS for at least 5 years.

Menendez made the following statement:

“This fiscally irresponsible, unsafe, discriminatory bill was only on the House floor because of a backroom deal that was reached late at night to gain passage of the Republican Medicare Prescription Drug bill. That special interest deal was reached at the expense of Americans of Hispanic descent and other immigrant groups, even those who reside here legally, and our nation’s health. It is clear that among Republican priorities, special —not human— interests come first.

“The Speaker and House Republicans are playing Russian Roulette with our community and our community’s health.

“And with Mr. Rohrabacher’s bill, we continue to see elements of the xenophobic base of the Republican Party.

“If Mr. Rohrabacher had his way, and you were rolled into an emergency room and lacked health insurance, his bill would have required medical personnel to ask you whether you lived here legally or not, instead of focusing on your immediate health needs.

“In fact, if I were to enter an emergency room — a Mr. Menendez — or someone who, perhaps, can be described as characteristically Hispanic or Asian looking, but lacked health insurance, as do 43 million American citizens, instead of addressing my immediate health concerns, Mr. Rohra-bacher’s bill would have required a hospital to gather a plethora of detailed information on my legal and financial status, creating additional paper work and delaying the attention other patients require.

“So, while a patient suffers in the emergency room, not only would this bill require detailed information, but would put you through an Orwellian process of fingerprints, biometric identifiers, and financial statements that are more fit for a police station than a hospital room.

“What we need in our nation’s hospitals is compassion and humanity, not a police state creating paper work for health care professionals. And that’s exactly what Mr. Rohrabacher’s bill does.

“Here is what the American Hospital Association says: ‘America’s hospitals treat everyone who walks through our doors. And we are opposed to Mr. Rohrabacher’s bill because it’s bad policy — bad policy for hospitals, nurses, doctors and other health care personnel who work in hospitals. But most importantly, it’s bad policy for patients. Rohrabacher’s legislation is bad policy because it takes hospitals away from what we do best, caring for and healing our patients. The requirements for reimbursement under the legislation would turn hospital workers into boarder patrol agents. That’s not our job. We are caregivers not cops. And hospital care givers are already burdened with paper work which requires, at least, 30 minutes, often an hour, for every patient for every hour of patient care. The additional burden of policing suspected undocumented immigrants would take health care workers away from their primary mission of healing and caring.’

“Instead of getting so caught up in their xenophobic frenzy, I call on Republicans like Dana Rohrabacher to focus on improving our economy, helping our families afford health care, creating jobs for millions of unemployed, and to show some basic humanity, instead of attacking human beings in need of emergency care.”

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