Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses"

(Pat Burgwinkle)

An article in the New York Times recently highlighted what I found to be a highly shocking and morally reprehensible policy of the Federal Government: denying chemotherapy to illegal immigrants with cancer.

The Federal Government has been auditing state medicaid records and have announced that they will no longer reimburse states for providing chemotherapy to illegal immigrants because chemotherapy does not qualify as emergency care. I think this should shock and offend most people but sadly I know it won't. Immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are viewed as less important by most people because they're not full citizens. Even if you ignore the moral obligation I think hospitals and doctors have to treat people who are sick, there is a very flawed logic being employed. If someone has cancer, they will die without care. Having accepted this basic fact of cancer, how is chemotherapy or any other cancer treatment not an emergency treatment? Cancer is as life threatening an emergency as a gun shot wound or a severe allergic reaction. The Times article also points out that out of the 500,000 illegal immigrants in New York state, a minority actually require cancer treatment. Why our government's unwillingness to fund this life saving treatment for people simply because they weren't born in the United States and then came here to seek a better life?

Obviously, people would it is because they came here illegally. I, however, think it's a far more sickening reason: the Federal Government is using cancer treatment, an expensive and long-term type of care, to whip up a furor against illegal immigrants. By highlighting that illegal immigrants receive this care in the first place, the government is hoping to sustain the anti-immigrant feeling in parts of the population, specifically the American-born working poor. This strategy plays two poor, under-privileged segments of society off of one another when they really should be working together on issues like universal health care coverage for all people. This is a repugnant political strategy, using people with cancer as a talking point in the government's case against a productive, critically important, and much maligned segment of American workers: illegal workers.

Medicaid should cover all people for whatever a doctor, not some bureaucrat in Washington, determines to be a medical emergency. Health care is a universal human right and pulling the plug on funding for chemotherapy for illegal immigrants is tantamount to a death sentence for illegal immigrants with cancer. The federal government can play politics with immigration policy but most certainly not with human lives. Shame on them.