‘It’s like you can’t buy milk from a grocery’
SUMAN GUHA MOZUMDER
Community organizations have criticized the health-care
reform law for excluding over 10 million undocumented
immigrants, including an estimated 200,000 Indian
Americans, from getting any health-care benefit.
They pointed out that undocumented immigrants have
not just been denied the right to buy insurance from the
exchange program, but also the ability to buy insurance at
full cost without any State subsidy.
“This is very unfortunate and there is a huge concern
about this,” said Priya Murthy of South Asian Americans
Leading Together. “We feel that health care is a human
rights issue and should benefit everyone irrespective of
their status. Many individuals who do not have (insured)
status are scared to go to the emergency room and then
there are language and culture issues, and this makes the
health situation worse.”
Sudha Acharya, executive director, South Asian Council
for Social Services, said it was very disappointing that
undocumented immigrants have not been given the right
to buy insurance even if on their own.
“It is like saying you cannot buy milk from a grocery
because you are undocumented,” she said.
The National Immigration Law Center too described the
denial of insurance to undocumented immigrants as very
So what can an undocumented immigrant do in case s/he
falls severely sick?
Most experts said such immigrants have no choice but to
go to the emergency room where doctors are bound by law
to provide care irrespective of a person’s immigration status.
“Obviously that is very expensive not just for the patient,
but for the system as well,” Murthy said.
“The concern,” said Francesca Gany, founder and director
of the New York-based Immigrant Health, “is that with the
new law almost everybody is going to be insured practical-
ly. But the safety net may not get the amount of attention
that it needs.”
Cardiologist Dr Dayan Naik, former president, American
Association of Physicians of Indian origin, felt that more
emergency room visits would cost the government a lot.
“Preventive care and not emergency room is much better
from the point of view of both patients
and government expenditure,” he said.
Nurse Sapna Patel, right, checks a patient’s blood pressure in New York, March 22
LUCAS JACKSON/REU TERS
Nurses see opportunity
SUMAN GUHA MOZUMDER
The Indian American Nursing Association
said the health-care reform bill will throw up
opportunities for aspiring nurses from India as
well for those living in the United States.
Omana Simon, national president of the
organization, said the average age of nurses is
about 50 and a lot of them will be retiring in
the next decade or so. “So, the hospitals will
need more nurses,” she said.
Mariamma Thomas, president of the organi-
zation’s Houston chapter, said though hospi-
tals are cutting nursing jobs in a bid to reduce
expenditure during the economic recession,
she was sure things will improve.
especially echocardiography and nuclear medicine, to prevent practicing cardi-
ologists from closing their practices and becoming hospital employees.”
“And, of course,” Nanda added, “the biggest failing, as we physicians see it, is
that medical tort reform was not included as an amendment to further contain
the health-care costs.”
Another former AAPI president, Dr Sharad Lakhanpal, said, “Unfortunately,
access to health insurance may not translate into access to health care. Another
issue the bill does not address is the manpower shortage. There is a shortage of
physicians in the US, and if the 32 million people who are now uninsured sud-
denly seek health care with insurance, the medical manpower shortage may
reach crisis proportions.”
He said, “The health-care reform was initiated with the premise to reduce
health-care costs. But this is not likely to happen and in fact, there may be an
increase in cost.”
He agreed that one definite way to reduce cost would have been through
meaningful tort reform.
“The two biggest states — California and Texas — have shown that tort reform
is effective and works. And yet, despite several pleas by the medical community, tort reform has not been included in the bill. This is very unfortunate,” he
Dr Navin Shah, a Maryland urologist and a longtime activist on behalf of
international medical graduates, said in a capitalistic society, a government
assisted and controled health-care program is incongruent with its personal
responsibility, philosophy and practice.
“As we have seen,” Navin Shah said, “in universal government-run health care
in the United Kingdom and Canada, there will be long waiting periods to see
physicians, and more so the specialists. Time spent by physicians and hospital
personnel will be much less due to the bulk of patients. This will amount to both
the queue (line) system, rationing of health services and quality of health care
will be at a lower level than the present high standards.”
He added, “I believe the bill intentionally omitted malpractice reforms.
Presently, physicians pay annual insurance payments ranging from $15,000 to
$200,000 and this is going to be an untenable situation.”
Studies have shown, he argued, that “physicians indulge in defensive medicine
costing about 30 percent of medical care costs.”