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Doctor Group Says Undocumented Immigrants Should Have Access to Health Care

— A medical organization meeting in San Diego has stepped into the immigration reform debate, asserting that illegal immigrants should have access to health care so they don't spread dangerous diseases to others.

"Access to care for immigrants is a public health issue that should be of concern to all of us," said Dr. J. Fred Ralston, the president of the American College of Physicians, holding its Internal Medicine 2011 meeting at the San Diego Convention Center.

"Take the case of immigrants with tuberculosis -- under the current system they may be afraid that going to a hospital to seek treatment would place them at risk for deportation,'' Ralston said. "If they decide to delay care because of this fear, it could increase the number of people exposed to the disease exponentially.''

The ACP called for a national policy on immigration and health care that:

  • protects taxpayers for subsidizing health care insurance for illegal immigrants, but allows such migrants to purchase coverage;
  • gives U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants the same access to health care as other children;
  • federal government support for organizations providing uncompensated care;
  • acknowledgement of the risk of undocumented migrants avoiding health care for fear of apprehension;
  • understanding of a physician's ethical requirement to treat sick patients regardless of their legal status; and
  • policies that do not foster discrimination based on immigrant status for health care purposes.

The doctors also acknowledged that the United States needed to control its borders, differentiate between legal residents and those who do not follow the rules, and that returning large numbers of illegal immigrants to their former countries would have public health consequences.

"Any national immigration policy will need to balance the legitimate needs and concerns to control our borders and to equitably differentiate in publicly supported services for those who fully comply with immigration laws and those who do not," Ralston said. "However, access to health care for immigrants is crucial to the overall population of the U.S. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that all residents have access to necessary care."

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