Why The Health Care Law Might Leave Florida's Undocumented In A Lurch

Dec 17, 2012

Undocumented workers in Florida won't benefit from all health care reform measures.
Credit ernstl /Flickr

As state and federal lawmakers roll out and implement the health care reform law over the next few years,  millions of people living in the U.S. who didn't have health insurance will gain insurance. However, in a state like Florida, thousands of people won't be included in those changes-- and that is because they are undocumented.

According to the Associated Press, the Affordable Care Act was never aimed at helping the estimated 11 million illegal immigrant who don't have health insurance, yet are living and working in places like Florida.

The new law is also slashing the amount of money hospitals get for providing health services to people who don't have insurance. While that shouldn't be a huge problem (because the number of people without insurance is expected to go down all over the country when the law is fully implemented), in Florida that number is still going to be pretty high. That's because the state's high number of insured folks includes a lot of undocumented people.

The AP also reports that is especially true "if lawmakers don't expand Medicaid, the joint state-federal health program for the poor and disabled."

When the reform has been fully implemented, illegal immigrants will make up the nation's second-largest population of uninsured, or about 25 percent. The only larger group will be people who qualify for insurance but fail to enroll, according to a 2012 study by the Washington-based Urban Institute.

And since about two-thirds of illegal immigrants live in just eight states, those areas will have a disproportionate share of the uninsured to care for. 

In communities "where the number of undocumented immigrants is greatest, the strain has reached the breaking point," Rich Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association, wrote last year in a letter to Obama, asking him to keep in mind the uncompensated care hospitals gave to that group. "In response, many hospitals have had to curtail services, delay implementing services, or close beds."

The feds are going to give some money upfront to states for expanding their Medicaid programs, but some states -- including Florida -- are saying they don't want to expand their program and will probably not take a dime from the feds.

Experts say if the state does turn down the money, it could worsen problems for health care providers, who are already legally obligated to provide care to anyone who shows up at a hospital.