updated 5/18/2004 4:10:20 PM ET 2004-05-18T20:10:20

The House rejected legislation that could have led to hospital emergency rooms denying some services to illegal aliens while helping to get them kicked out of the country.

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Hispanic legislators led opposition to the bill, joining medical groups in contending that it would turn hospitals into law enforcement agencies and prevent illegal residents from seeking life-saving medical treatment.

It was defeated 331-88.

The legislation came to the House floor as a result of a promise that GOP leaders made to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., in exchange for his vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill that narrowly passed last November.

Rohrabacher was ready to vote against the Medicare bill because it contained $1 billion over four years to reimburse hospitals for treating illegal immigrants. The Orange County conservative was told he could offer legislation to counter the effects of that provision.

Rohrabacher’s bill would have required hospitals receiving money under the provision to obtain information on the immigration status and employer of people seeking emergency treatment. That information would have been sent into a database set up jointly by the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

The Homeland Security Department would have been required to initiate deportation proceedings against illegal aliens.

Employers would be responsible for costs
In addition, employers of illegal aliens would have been responsible for the cost of unreimbursed emergency room care, and hospitals would not have had to provide care for an illegal alien who could safely be sent back to his or her own country for treatment.

Rohrabacher said health care for illegals has extended to heart bypasses, transplants and cancer treatment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those opposed to his bill, he said, “are voting to spend our limited health care money to make America the HMO of the world. And then they act surprised when even more tens of millions of illegals flood into our country.”

But Hilda Solis, D-Calif., said the bill would turn hospitals into law enforcement and immigration agents, and would have lead to scenarios where women in labor would have to choose between going to a hospital and being deported. “What kind of fear does that place in a community?” she asked.

Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the House’s no. 3 Democrat, envisioned being asked to prove his citizenship in an emergency room because of his name. “That’s shameful. You wouldn’t ask any other citizen that,” he said.

The Federation of American Hospitals, American Hospital Association and other medical groups wrote lawmakers urging opposition to the bill, saying it “would virtually ensure that illegal immigrants will avoid getting the appropriate and timely lifesaving health care they need, when they need it.”

Rohrabacher said illegal aliens make up 43 percent of those without health insurance, and thus account for at least $9 billion of the $21 billion that hospitals reported in uncompensated health services last year. The office of Sen. Jon Kyl., R-Ariz., who was behind the $1 billion in the Medicare bill, put the annual cost of treating undocumented residents at about $1.45 billion.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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