U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both R-Ariz., have taken a welcome first step to help resolve a looming health care crisis in our state: Huge losses sustained by hospitals and clinics serving large numbers of patients without health insurance.
The problem is especially acute in border states with disproportionately large populations of illegal immigrants. Some hospitals that can no longer sustain the losses are closing their emergency rooms.
As Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock explained on these pages last week, massive losses at Maricopa Medical Center, which serves large numbers of low-income people, are aggravating the county's budget squeeze. Yet the state is facing a budget crisis of its own and can't be counted on for relief.
County officials are considering selling the hospital or creating a special taxing district unless Congress provides some relief. The Kyl-McCain bill would provide that in the form of $1.45 billion per year to states with unusually large numbers of uninsured residents. Arizona's share of the measure would be $235 million.
Although the bill is a long way from passage, McCain and Kyl are in key leadership positions, as chairmen of the Commerce Committee and Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care respectively.
A recent study by the U.S.-Mexico Border Counties Coalition found that emergency medical treatment costs for illegal immigrants in Arizona's four border counties alone had reached nearly $31 million a year — and $200 million for all U.S. counties bordering Mexico. Kyl said in a statement on Thursday that the study shows congressional action is needed.
“I am pleased to report that we are making significant progress in getting that message across to my Senate colleagues,” Kyl said.
But the political reality is that only four of the 50 states border Mexico, and Congress faces numerous other fiscal demands. Getting this measure passed will require the concerted and sustained efforts of our entire congressional delegation, along with those of Texas, New Mexico and California.
There should be nothing partisan about about providing emergency medical care to people who need it. And the federal government must help where the burden of providing that care falls disproportionately — namely, on border states such as Arizona.