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Florida bill would require patients to share their immigration status

Miami Herald
Hospitals that accept Medicaid would have to ask patients about their immigration status if SB 1718 were to become law.

Medical providers in Florida want lawmakers to oppose an anti-immigration bill that will mandate some hospitals to ask patients if they are in the country legally.

Republican State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia of Springhill, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1718, said: "We can’t touch illegal immigration enforcement, but what we can do is join with other states to take away the inducements and the incentives.”

The bill, which is awaiting a floor vote, would require hospitals that accept Medicaid to change their admission or registration forms. It would mean more than 320 Florida hospitals would need to include a question asking patients whether they're United States citizens, or whether they are lawfully or not lawfully in the country.

According to the bill, the form should inform patients that their answer does not affect patient care or result in a report to immigration authorities.

Rep. Ingoglia has said he wants the state to determine how much it costs to provide care for undocumented people. Supporters of his measure say people who don't have papers drain resources of hospitals that receive Medicaid.

But at a press conference organized by an equity in healthcare nonprofit this week, doctors and nurses opposed the bill. They said the measure will discourage undocumented persons from getting the care they need, and urged the state to accept federal money to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, to help with medical costs instead.

“As a doctor, I've taken an oath to provide care for all patients, regardless of their background or their status," Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said at the event hosted by the non-partisan Florida Policy Institute.

READ MORE: Hospital Settles Medicaid Claims On Undocumented Immigrant Care

He said he worries about patients who do physical labor, such as agriculture workers or cleaners. "I'm deeply concerned this bill is going to scare many undocumented patients from seeking care," he said.

"I truly believe every patient deserves access to the highest quality health care," Carrasquillo continued. "Health care is a basic human right, and making it harder for people to access care really goes ethically against what we as doctors support. It is not what the medical profession wants, so I urge our lawmakers to reject this harmful legislation."

Kevin Cho Tipton, a critical care nurse based in Miami, said a lot of patients in a hospital are facing the hardest moments of their lives. Having to ask them whether they're in the U.S. lawfully will add another challenge for providers and patients — and will discourage them from coming to a public hospital until their condition is much worse.

"The critically ill will be even more sick," Tipton said. "This will cost lives and it will cost all of us more in health care because like changing a spark plug in your car is cheaper than changing the whole engine, preventative care early when you're sick saves lives and saves money."

Carrasquillo, Tipton and 78 other medical care providers signed a letter to the president of the Florida Senate and the speaker of the House urging them to oppose the measures.

SB 1718 and its companion measure in the House of Representatives are awaiting floor votes which may happen as soon as this week.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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