SAN DIEGO -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich has proposed a multibillion-dollar plan in which the federal government would fully reimburse states for providing emergency medical care to illegal immigrants.
The Georgia Republican said Friday the proposal could cost the federal government up to $6 billion nationwide over seven years.
"It is the federal government's responsibility to stop illegal aliens from coming into this country," Mr. Gingrich said, "and their failure to do so should not impose additional burdens on the states."
If adopted, Mr. Gingrich's plan would double the reimbursement states currently receive, solving one of the costliest and most controversial problems in dealing with illegal immigration.
Federal law requires hospitals to provide emergency care to all who need it, regardless of immigration status or insurance status. This means that hospitals near the U.S.-Mexico border must provide care -- including maternity services -- for illegal immigrants and then absorb the unreimbursed portion of the costs elsewhere in their budgets, sometimes by making cuts in services to other patients or adding to the amount charged to those patients.
At present, most illegal immigrants are treated in public hospitals, and most of the costs are paid by state and county governments.
California Gov. Pete Wilson estimates that in fiscal 1995-1996, California will pay $382 million to provide emergency medical services to illegal immigrants, up from $21 million in 1988-1989.
Faced with such runaway costs, Mr. Wilson has repeatedly petitioned the Clinton administration to reimburse California and other states for the cost of giving medical care and other services to illegal immigrants.
A bill containing the health care money will be readied for a vote by mid-November, according to aides to the congressmen.