A new law is set to pass in the state of Florida that will require all hospitals receiving Medicaid funding to collect information regarding their patients’ immigration status as part of the admissions process. The request will include a disclaimer that the patient’s response won’t affect their care or be reported to the immigration authorities. Patients’ names also wouldn’t be disclosed to the state. It is set to go into effect on July 1 once Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it into law.
The announcement drew criticism from various medical groups and organizations. The American Medical Association opposes the idea of adding immigration status to electronic health records. The group said the change “should be avoided” because it could potentially delay care for patients. The AMA is also afraid the law will prevent undocumented individuals from seeking regular healthcare and that these patients will eventually wind up back in the ER seeking treatment for an urgent health issue that could have been prevented.
The process of checking patient immigration status is known as E-Verify. The law builds off the governor’s 2021 executive order that required managed care plans and hospitals to report all Medicaid and governmental expenditures incurred on behalf of noncitizens. A subsequent state report showed that immigrants accounted for 111,000 medical encounters and 23,000 hospital admissions in the fiscal year 2021, which cost the state around $313 million.
“I wholeheartedly thank and commend Gov. Ron DeSantis for having the courage to lead on this issue,” said Blaise Ingoglia, the state senator who sponsored the bill that passed the Senate Rules Committee last month. “This problem is now at our doorstep, and Florida will not stand for it anymore.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also opposes the legislation. The group argued that immigration status should be protected under HIPAA.
Alison Yager, executive director of the Florida Health Justice Project, said the law would have a “chilling effect” on the state’s healthcare system.
“Any time there is the specter of immigration enforcement or an impact on an immigration application, people will opt to stay home instead of going to the hospital,” she said. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say people will die as a result.”
The current legislation doesn’t mention whether hospitals will have the option to opt out of reporting or what the penalty will be for noncompliance. However, it would make transporting noncitizens into or within the state a felony, which could affect ambulances and other medical transport services.
“These bills are going to dissuade people who are multiply marginalized from seeking healthcare” and will complicate treatment when they do access care, said Laura Kallus, chief executive officer of Caridad Center, the largest free health clinic in Florida.
Kevin Cho Tipton, a nurse practitioner in Miami, recently flew to the state capitol in Tallahassee after working the night shift to voice his opposition to the bill.
“As someone who is deeply involved in the bedside care of people, they [immigrants] will worry what this question actually means,” he told lawmakers. “I realize that the intent of this bill is not to force people to be afraid of receiving care, but I guarantee you this will cause people to be fearful.”
Others argue that providers can easily make mistakes when using the E-Verify program, especially if they don’t have experience checking immigration status.
“You are looking at a bill that creates an atmosphere where you could get targeted whether you are an immigrant, citizen or tourist,” said Felipe Sousa-Lazaballet, the executive director of Hope CommUnity Center, a nonprofit in Apopka, that provides immigrants an array of social services. “You don’t know people’s immigration status by looking at them,” Tipton said.