Illegals forgo services rather than risk deportation

Thursday, July 15, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Arizona's controversial new immigration law may be keeping some illegal immigrants from seeking medical services, say providers.

The law, signed in April and effective July 27, gives police broad latitude to check the immigration status of people they think are in the country illegally. As a result, many illegal immigrants seem to be maintaining a low profile, say providers.

"They are definitely keeping to themselves," said Sherri Knutson, owner of Reliable Medical Products in Phoenix. "If they have equipment, they are giving it back or they are not calling us for any type of supplies."

Provider Candy Baretto has noticed a small drop off in emergency room and clinic referrals.

"We called to see what was going on and they said (patients) were afraid because they are not sure if they are going to get deported when they walk out of the clinic," said Baretto, branch manager for Lifecare Solutions in Mesa.

Not everyone thinks the new law impacts HME providers.

"I don't know why illegal immigrants would have anything to do with someone's business model--there's not a reimbursement stream," said Larry Johnson, president of Dependable Medical Equipment in Tucson. "What's their payment source?"

Believe it or not, there are illegal residents with insurance or who pay out of pocket, say others. Provider Kevin Nestrick has served patients that he has suspected were illegal, but says he never asks.

"We don't look for their green card," said Nestrick, CEO of Altius Healthcare in Prescott. "When we receive their insurance information we have to make the assumption that they got that insurance through an employer or purchased it independently. Even when they don't have insurance, we don't ask if they are a legal resident."

At the end of the day, it's the job of providers to take care of the patients, he said.

"We take an oath to take care of people," said Nestrick. "If they are sick and already down are we going to kick them again and say, 'by the way you have to leave the country?' What's that going to accomplish?"