September 20, 2006 3:21PM

Emergency Care Providers Decline “Free” Money

A couple of years ago, Congress created a $1 billion fund to reimburse providers for emergency medical care delivered to illegal immigrants who don’t pay their bills, but providers aren’t signing up for the free money.

According to the Chicago Tribune, “In Illinois, one of six states slated to receive the bulk of the money, just 6 percent of the $12.1 million available to hospitals, doctors and ambulances has been spent.” Why so little?

The biggest deterrent to applying for the money, [hospital officials] explain, is concern about time‐​consuming paperwork that can offset any money gained…

Another problem for some is more of a moral issue, a concern by hospital officials that questions about immigration status will scare off already worried immigrants. These hospitals are uneasy with the requirement that they document whether their patients are eligible for the federal money.

If winning congressional approval of this handout required loading it down with so much red tape that even its intended beneficiaries don’t want the money, then might this be a government program that Republicans could eliminate? Maybe? 

Don’t hold your breath. One of the program’s biggest supporters is conservative Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, a member of the Senate leadership. Back in 2004, Kyl boasted that he had secured $42 million for Arizona through this program. (Only $5 million of that has so far been spent.)