By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Overshadowed by the larger healthcare debate, doctors from border states are lobbying to revive federal funding for all hospital emergency rooms, especially those that serve illegal immigrants. "It's a big deal," says David Englander, former director of emergency medicine at California's Riverside County Regional Medical Center. To cover an unfunded mandate, Congress in 2003 set aside $250 million annually to help medical facilities recoup the costs of paying for care to the poor, such as illegal immigrants. The money expired this year, but Englander argues that funding could be added to the far-reaching healthcare bill now before the Senate. So far, the goal of providing medical care to the poor hasn't gotten caught up in the debate over immigration. Englander says illegal immigrants have received free care for decades, because federal laws prohibit emergency room discrimination. Starved of funding, he says, some facilities will go belly up.