ChiTrib Finds Illegal Immigrants Laughing at Idea of Returning Home to Socialized Medicine

While liberal Democrats pressed on the issue insist proposals before Congress for health care reform will not cover illegal immigrants, today's Chicago Tribune lamented that "Illegal immigrants face life-and-death decisions without health insurance."

Tribune reporter Antonio Olivo served up a 36-paragraph story focused particularly on the plight of illegal immigrants in need of organ transplants. But it seems Olivo buried his lede given the excerpt below from paragraphs 25-28, wherein the immigrants he interviewed scoffed at the idea of going back for government-run health care in their home countries (emphasis mine):

In Chicago, about a dozen patients in need of organ transplants lean on one another through an informal support group. They sat recently inside one patient's Pilsen home, comparing kidney dialysis regimens and worries over mounting hospital bills. Within the group, sharing medicine is common. In cases where pills are running out, so is rationing one pill a day instead of three.

Asked about returning to Mexico or other homelands to receive more comprehensive care, the group broke into laughter.

"Over there, it's a thousand times worse," said Juan Zavala, a legal immigrant from Mexico and a transplant recipient who started the informal network. "Here, you may get treated poorly by some nurse or doctor. There? They'll give you a kick and tell you you're out of luck."

Sitting nearby, listening, was Liliana Cruz, 16. After she received a diagnosis of kidney failure in the Mexican state of Michoacan, her family came to the U.S. illegally in 2005 to seek help in getting a transplant after Mexican doctors said family members would have to pay cash in their own country.

Despite having a constitutionally guaranteed right to taxpayer-funded public health care in Mexico, Liliana Cruz's family would have had to pay out-of-pocket for her kidney transplant-related expenses. As an illegal immigrant in Illinois, her family is finding at least some U.S. taxpayer support for Cruz's operation:

Under current federal laws, illegal immigrants are entitled to receive only emergency health care, though Illinois and some other states offer assistance to cover uninsured children. In Cook County, some immigrants might access a "limit of liability" program providing temporary financial aid to low-income uninsured patients.

[...]

Cruz's age qualifies her to receive a transplant paid for by the state's All Kids health subsidy program, and she has a willing donor in an adult sister. But the UIC Medical Center has declined the procedure because the sister's part of the surgery would not be subsidized.

So Cruz has to wait longer on a waiting list for a transplant, but she's still eligible for one. Even so, Olivo opted to close his story on a hopeless note, perhaps all the better to tug on readers' heart strings for government health care for illegal immigrants:

A well-meaning nurse at the dialysis center handed Cruz's mother a sales brochure for Crazy Cookies, which would earn the family $3 for every box sold.

The family tried selling the chocolate chip treats for a day before giving up. Cruz's mother, who asked that her name not be used because of her undocumented status, doubted that selling the treats would help save her daughter.

"It would take me decades," she said.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.