"Mariana de la Torre, 28, speaking of living illegally in the United States and a medical odyssey that saw her steal another woman's identification, undergo treatment for cervical cancer at three Illinois hospitals and rack up $530,000 in medical bills covered by Medicaid and other charity programs.One patient. Over half a million dollars. Of another American's health insurance.
Mariana de la Torre, 28, cries at Trinity Medical Center in Rock Island as she talks about her children in Mexico. De la Torre, who came to the U.S. illegally in 2006, was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 but put off treatment for several months because of her lack of a proper ID. She was first admitted to the medical center in May 2007 by using someone's ID and medical card, but her cancer became terminal. Her only wish later was to return to Mexico to see her family."
Granted, it's an extreme example. But some have estimated that 10 million of the 47 million uninsured in America are here illegally.
Importantly, this story is not just about this patient, but rather about the pressing global health concerns that are right on our border, not to mention all over the world. With this perspective in mind, it is clear that our current proposals for health care reform are unambitious. How do we address the endless needs presented by undocumented immigrants without dealing straight-on with the immigration problem? Is there an American consensus about how we should divvy up our health care dollar when it comes to these health care crises?
There is a way that every hospital (and every employer for that matter) could have a 98% accuracy in documenting whether a patient/employee is legal: the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify program, but so far we have lacked the political and moral resolve to implement such a system.
So what is our plan?
This story points out to all of us that continuing to look the other way is a failed strategy. We need an honest discussion of our limitations, not just manipulation of America's compassion.
Addendum: De la Torre's follow-up story that appeared today in the Chicago Tribune and inspired this post.