What if Joe Wilson Was Right?

September 16, 2009

Okay, let’s try this for a moment: Let’s suppose that the premise underlying Congressman Joe Wilson’s unconscionable outburst during the President’s address to Congress last week has some truth to it. Yes, I know: FactCheck.org points out that the bills before Congress all contain provisions that would prevent any Federal health subsidies or benefits from going to illegal aliens.

But Republicans counter that illegals might slip through cracks in a system that doesn’t have enough enforcement mechanisms to make those provisions effective. And, they say, illegals might also receive emergency room care that would wind up being paid for with Federal funds (as opposed to the current system which pays for all ER visits — by citizens, legal residents, AND illegal aliens — by increasing insurance costs for all of us).

And Republicans might be right about this. There, I said it. Joe Wilson might be right.

So what? What’s the alternative? Are we actually going to adopt a government health care program that denies all medical care to illegals living in the United States? Are we going to turn away the the sick and the wounded from our hospitals if they can’t come up with documentation? Really? Is that what we’ve become? Is that the America in which any of us wants to live?

Many of those who are in the country illegally right now receive health care at ERs. You and I pay for their care through higher health care premiums, and public health costs that are passed along to taxpayers. Given Wilson’s outburst and the ugly xenophobic frothing at the mouth of the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, and Bill O’Reillys of the world, this is clearly unacceptable. So what should we do? Stop more people from entering the country illegally? Yes, of course. Deport those who are here illegally now? Yes, fine. But what do we do tonight, at the hospital in L.A. or Phoenix, New York or Chicago, Miami or Atlanta? What do we do with the young Latino kid who shows up at a hospital with swine flu or meningitis? What do we do with the farm worker who is having chest pains? What do we do with the little girl in the barrio who shows up with a gunshot wound after being caught in the crossfire between two gangs? What do we tell the father or wife or older sister who brings a loved one to the hospital, desperate for help?

“Sorry, but we would rather let her die than pay for her treatment.”

I don’t think so.

Here’s the point, and there’s really no way around it. We have a choice as a people. We can make our health care system so restrictive that we endanger lives. Or we can try to make health care as affordable and accessible as possible, even if it means treating the sick and injured among those living in the shadows. We can be correct and cruel, righteous and arbitrary. Or we can be humane. We can do our best to avoid rewarding illegal behavior, while also being flexible and generous enough to look past the law and see the humanity of those who are suffering.

Personally I think it’s an easy choice.

3 Responses to “What if Joe Wilson Was Right?”

  1. Frank said

    The question isn’t “Will this bill get illegal immigrants health care?”, but “Will this bill actually make the health care that illegal immigrants in our country get Cheaper for us all?”

    The answer seems to be YES.

    Also, if health insurance is mandated, and we don’t allow immigrants to get it, then when the person shows up at the ER with no insurance they are in violation of the law, and they come to the attention of the authorities.

    This law could actually lead to an increase in immigration enforcement by making uninsured aliens “Double criminals”. Conservatives (and other immigration reform proponents) could be cheering this.

  2. Ah, at last – I’ve found someone who says something that I thought (as a total outsider from the other side of the world) should have been the crux of the matter.

    To follow the point Frank raised to its possible conclusion, though – if an illegal immigrant knows that rolling up at an ER is going to bring him to the attention of the authorities, will he stay away? And end up, say, spreading a communicable disease as a result (quite apart from maybe ending up dead himself)?

  3. davidbcoe said

    Frank, you raise interesting points (as you always do, I might add). I do think it will impact illegals one way or another. But I think it’s likely that they WON’T sign up for any program because it will draw attention to their illegal status. Far from wanting to take taxpayer dollars, as the right fears, I believe they really just want to be left alone.

    And Glenda that’s a fine point, too, and one that I might use to argue against any health care mandates. These are difficult issues that call for mature discussion. Which is all the more reason for the nutters to cool their rhetoric and debate the questions on their merits.

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