Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Mexican Hospitals Complain of American Immigrants

The Brownsville Herald - Online Edition

Mexican hospitals complain of U.S. immigrants

The Brownsville Herald

MATAMOROS, 19 de mayo, 2004 — Bookkeepers at the Hospital General Alfredo Pumarejo have little hope of collecting the $380 bill left outstanding by a Houston man who was treated there weeks ago.

Hospital records show the man was taken to the Matamoros hospital after a car wreck that shattered his right leg.

The 43-year-old man was on his way to Monterrey when the accident happened.

Mexican surgeons put a rod in his leg and wired his broken jaw shut.

His hospital stay stretched over two weeks and included services and medications.

When he was well enough, the man left the hospital and skipped out on the nearly 4,000 peso account.

Mexican health providers have little or no resources to find the missing patient or collect for their services.

It’s not uncommon. Mexican hospitals absorb hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in unpaid medical bills owed by Mexican and U.S. patients that are considered “immigrants.”

U.S. hospitals claim billions in unpaid bills for treating undocumented immigrants and the indigent. In 2002, Brownsville Medical Center reported an average of $500,000 per month in unpaid services, attributed mostly to undocumented immigrants.

Like U.S. hospitals, Mexican hospitals do not require proof of citizenship or ability to pay in order to provide emergency treatment.

According to Matamoros General Hospital director Dr. Victor Garcia Fuentes, the immigrant and legal resident populations make up a growing client base that is filling emergency rooms in Matamoros but statistics are hard to keep.

“The number of U.S citizens and people from Brownsville is increasing rapidly, and we cannot say how many because we don’t ask them for their nationality, we’re not immigration officers,” Garcia said.

“If you asked any doctor here whether they’d like the U.S citizens to pay, the answer would be ‘yes’,” he said.

Tamaulipas Health officials said Matamoros and Valle Hermoso hospitals care for about 165,000 patients each year, of them 163,613 were uninsured in 2002.

Rising health care and prescription costs in the United States make cheaper services and products in Mexico appealing to U.S. residents, especially the uninsured, Garcia said. The draw means more financial risk for Mexican facilities.

Garcia concedes that quality — of facilities and services — fall short of U.S. standards but said that full effort is given to treating every patient.

“Maybe we don’t have the same quality when compared with the U.S. hospitals but we can tell you that we’re a modest hospital that meets a medical demand for emergency to surgical attention,” he said.

Officials at the hospital said they receive about $330,000 from the State of Tamaulipas every year to help pay for indigent care.

“Fifty percent of this money is for medicines, among others things,” said Sandra Armendariz, a hospital social worker.

“Sometimes the low-income families are exempt from paying the hospital for the medical services that we provide for them,” she said.

Armendariz said the hospital can not force people to pay and have no way to bill them. Detaining them at the facility is also not an option.

“We cannot do that, because is against the law,” she said. “If we try to retain a patient in our facilities it will be considered a kidnapping.”


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