Texas taxpayers spent $678 million on healthcare for illegal immigrants
By ANDREW CHAVEZSpecial to the Star-Telegram
Healthcare for illegal immigrants cost the Texas government and local hospital districts $678 million in a year, according to a new study that state lawmakers hope will show the federal government how much Texas is spending in uncompensated care for illegal immigrants.
The study, by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, estimates that $597 million of the total was spent by 94 public hospitals during fiscal 2005-06.
The remainder, about $81 million, went to the state’s contribution to emergency Medicaid, which pays for emergency medical care for things such as childbirth, and to the Texas Family Violence Program, which funds shelters, 24-hour hot lines, counseling and other related services. That figure is from fiscal 2006-07.
The figures are intended to lend support to future state requests for more federal funding to offset the costs.
All figures were estimates because of the limited information available. However, a bill proposed for the upcoming state legislative session would require agencies to report the cost of services provided to illegal immigrants.
The report, generated by the House’s 2007 appropriations bill, was criticized by a Fort Worth legislator as "immigrant bashing."
Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said looking just at the cost of illegal immigrants doesn’t take into account the money they pump into the state.
"If you tell somebody to design a study and discover half the facts, you’ll get half the facts," Burnam said. "All you’ve done is look at one side of the ledger. People cost money no matter what their legal status is."
Burnam pointed to a 2006 report from the state comptroller’s office indicating that illegal immigrants produced $1.58 billion in state revenues and received $1.16 billion in state services.
But state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the new report puts a number on healthcare costs that the state cannot do anything about.
And an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said he was glad that Congress is getting the report.
"I’d like to bill the United States government," he said, "and have them pay Texas for the cost of the benefits that they require us to provide to illegal aliens."
Tarrant County’s JPS Health Network wasn’t compensated for $133 million in care for illegal immigrants, according to the study.
A JPS spokeswoman said administrators plan to evaluate the report, which was provided by a reporter late Friday afternoon.
"We are reviewing the information and will begin work next week on evaluating the numbers," said Jamie Brown, a JPS spokeswoman.
Immigrant care at JPS has been hotly debated in past years. The hospital provides emergency care because federal law requires it to. But in 2004, the district moved to bar illegal immigrants from receiving discounted or free care at the health network’s nonemergency clinics, an option available to qualified Tarrant County residents.
The board revisited the issue in 2007 but has not voted on it.
This report includes material from the Houston Chronicle and from the Star-Telegram archives.
Cost to area hospitals Parkland Memorial, Dallas…$135 million
John Peter Smith, Fort Worth…$133 million
Campbell Health System, Weatherford…$4 million
Wise Regional Health System, Decatur…$3 million
Other hard-hit Texas hospitals Ben Taub General, Houston…$203 million
R.E. Thomason General, El Paso…$38 million
University, San Antonio…$25 million
Source: Texas Health and Human Services Commission report
ANDREW CHAVEZ, 817-390-7957