April 26, 2023

Florida Health Care Providers Deliver Letter to Legislators Opposing Anti-Immigrant Bill

FLORIDA – Today, a group of 80 health care providers across the state delivered a letter to Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner urging them to vote against anti-immigrant legislation, House Bill 1617 and Senate Bill 1718. In the letter, health care experts outlined that, if passed, the bill would undermine public health in Florida. 

During a press conference this morning, health care providers, along with several advocacy groups, spoke about the “chilling effect” that the legislation would have in Florida.

Among the health concerns outlined is the requirement for hospitals that receive Medicaid to inquire and collect data on immigration status, and report that data to the governor and the Legislature. The bills would mandate hospitals to ask patients to disclose their immigration status on patient admission or registration forms. The letter claims that these bills would deter people from seeking health care due to fear of being targeted or discriminated against based on their immigration status.

Health care professionals also explained that HB 1617 and SB 1718 would increase emergency room visits and health care costs for Floridians as immigrants wait to receive medical care until situations become dire, driving up emergency room visits. They also listed their grave concern about ethics and violating the Medical Association’s Code of Ethics ethics principles should these bills pass. 

Olveen Carrasquillo, MD MPH, an internist based in Miami, said: “As a doctor, I've taken an oath to provide care for all patients regardless of their background or their status and I'm deeply concerned that this bill, SB 1718, is going to scare many undocumented patients from seeking care. My research has shown the many barriers that undocumented patients already face in health care, and this is just going to make it much worse.”

Kevin Cho Tipton, a critical care nurse practitioner based in Miami, said: “These proposed laws – no matter how well intentioned – will force folks to avoid seeking out care until it’s too late. This will cost lives, tear families apart, and ultimately make health care more expensive for us all. Of course our system is imperfect, but we already ask if patients have insurance, which immediately induces fear and suspicion. Asking about citizenship will only make this worse. Both questions will force health care teams to work harder to earn the trust of our patients and their families.”

Brent Schillinger, MD, a dermatologist based in Delray Beach, said: “I signed on to this letter because it's important that lawmakers hear from those of us who are on the front lines of health care, and making hospitals collect this data on immigration status puts us all on a dangerous path. Many individuals already won't go to a doctor for fear that their immigration status will be requested and then possibly reported to the authorities. Now, this latest provision could amplify this culture of fear and distrust of the system.”

Alexis Tsoukalas, policy analyst at Florida Policy Institute, said: “HB 1617 and SB 1718 would require Florida’s 320+ hospitals who are Medicaid providers to ask patients to share their immigration status, then report the aggregate responses quarterly to the state. Florida Policy Institute expects this legislation to create a significant administrative burden for hospitals, as well as discourage sick Floridians from seeking care due to fear of their immigration status being reported. Even if providers explain that individual data is not shared, it will almost certainly cause a chilling effect that keeps people in need away—harming them directly and in time, the rest of the state who’d have to deal with the public health consequences. This bill is damaging and unnecessary, and state leaders should reject it.”

Aurelie Colon Larrauri, state policy advocate at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said: “HB 1617/SB 1718 is a harmful, anti-immigrant super package that will be detrimental to immigrant communities, especially those who are still navigating our complex immigration system. We are extremely concerned with how hospital data collection on immigration status will impact immigrants, especially undocumented folks, and the health care they receive. Anyone having a health emergency shouldn’t have to think twice about seeking health care. Floridians, regardless of their immigration status, should feel safe going to receive health care without fear of deportation, and should have access to all health care, including access to abortion.”

Silvana Caldera, senior policy strategist at the ACLU of Florida, said: “A question about immigration status in an emergency situation would force individuals to choose between potentially life-saving health care and disclosing personal information that could lead to detention and family separation, and it raises significant ethics and privacy concerns for individuals seeking health care in Florida hospitals. The entire bill is filled with egregiously broad and harmful policies that incentivize ‘show me your papers’ behavior. We cannot allow Florida to become a state that targets immigrants through unprecedented government overreach."

Alison Yager, executive director at Florida Health Justice Project, said: “Florida currently ranks 36th among states in the Commonwealth Fund’s Scorecard on State Health, which measures access to care, appropriateness of care utilization, and population health. This bill — an unabashed attack on our immigrant communities -– will only serve to diminish our state standing on these critical measures. The misguided focus on the costs of utilization of care by our undocumented friends and neighbors will serve not just to harm the health of some of our most vulnerable residents, but to negatively impact population health, as well as state finances.”

The medical providers believe these bills are a direct attack on Florida’s most vulnerable communities and remind legislators that all individuals deserve access to health care without fear and to be treated with dignity and respect. The bills are waiting to be heard in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee and the House Commerce Committee. To read the full letter, click here

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