SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah hospitals can get up to $1.55 million in federal funds to help cover the costs of providing emergency care to undocumented immigrants -- but there's a catch.
To receive the funds, part of $1 billion to be distributed nationwide over four years under a new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services policy, hospitals would have to question patients about their immigration status.
Under the new guidelines, photocopies of passports, visas, border crossing cards or other documents that establish the patient's status should, if available, be included in the patient's file.
Jill Vicory of the Utah Hospital and Health Systems Association said determining a patient's immigration status could "in some cases cost more than it's worth.
"Anybody who comes in without insurance will have to be approached as undocumented." she said. "It has to become a policy for every person. That's where the cost comes in."
Vicory said it is not known how many undocumented patients are treated, but in 2001, Utah hospitals spent more than $97 million in charity care and covered about $128 million in bad debt.
Tony Yapias, director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs, said he's concerned about patient privacy, but he believes the policy is well-intended.
"For many years, we've heard from hospitals not getting the money they're spending for services provided for undocumented patients," he said. "I believe there's a compromise somewhere in between."
Some hospital executives and immigrant rights groups said the questioning would deter undocumented immigrants from seeking hospital care when they need it.
Marcela G. Urrutia of National Council of La Raza said, "We are extremely concerned about this requirement. It will deter Latino communities from seeking emergency care. That could lead to serious public health problems, including the spread of communicable diseases."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)