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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida health workers criticize immigration bill

Some doctors are concerned undocumented people will avoid Florida hospitals if they're afraid they'll have to answer questions about their immigration status.
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Some doctors are concerned undocumented people will avoid Florida hospitals if they're afraid they'll have to answer questions about their immigration status.

Health professionals say a proposal to collect data on undocumented patients could lead many to avoid care.

Dozens of health care professionals are speaking out against a bill that would require Florida hospitals to collect data on patients who are undocumented immigrants. It’s part of a larger attempt to crack down on illegal immigration, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A group of 80 health workers delivered a letter to Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner on Wednesday urging them to vote against the bill, which passed a House committee on Monday. A Senate committee is expected to vote on a similar version this week.

The proposal would require the more than 300 hospitals in the state that accept Medicaid to ask patients about their immigration status on intake forms.

Hospitals would also have to inform patients that sharing their status won’t affect their quality of care or result in their personal information getting reported to immigration authorities.

Doctors like Miami-based internist Olveen Carrasquillo say the change would still create a culture of fear.

Undocumented people already struggle to access health care, and Carrasquillo worries some may avoid treating health issues until they become crises if they’re worried about reporting their immigration status. That could lead to higher health costs and put their lives at risk.

“It's costly, it's dangerous, morally unethical,“ he said during a press conference hosted by the Florida Policy Institute. “It's not where we are as a civilized country; it is not what the medical profession wants.”

The letter also outlines public health concerns with the bill. During the press call, Dr. Brent Schillinger, a dermatologist from Delray Beach, used a COVID-19 patient as an example of how one person being afraid to seek care could affect a community.

“Without medical intervention this person could have spread COVID to family, friends and coworkers,” he said. “That's just one example – multiply this by all the contagious diseases that aren't being treated out of fear that patients have.”

The bill would require hospitals to submit quarterly reports to the Agency for Health Care Administration with information about how many patients were lawfully present in the United States and how many were not.

They would also have to submit an annual report to the governor, Senate president and House speaker that includes yearly totals along with information about how much it cost to treat undocumented patients.

Health care is just one facet of life the sweeping immigration proposal targets. Other provisions would crack down on businesses employing undocumented workers, make it harder for undocumented people to get identification cards and dedicate $12 million to fund efforts to relocate migrants out of Florida.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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