Houston Hospital District Seeks to Improve Immigrants’ Access to Care
Administrators of the Houston, Texas-area Harris County Hospital District are proposing to ease access to discounted care for undocumented residents by requiring them to prove only that they live in the county, not their citizenship status, the Houston Chronicle reports. The policy, which administrators will soon present to the district board, would assist immigrants in obtaining a "Gold Card," which allows qualifying county residents access to a "full range of discounted district care" by reducing medical fees based on income and in some cases eliminating the fee altogether. John Guest, district president and chief executive officer, said confusion over the card application process currently prevents undocumented immigrants from receiving the discounts, discouraging them from seeking early care and leading to increased and more costly emergency room visits. Guest added that easing access to the card "takes his staff out of the business of dealing with immigration issues" and pointed to a similar policy implemented in San Antonio's district that caused "no big problems." District board Chair Larry Finder said he has some concerns over whether Harris County can afford the policy change, saying, "I want to see some empirical data on our patient base [and] I want to know what the law is on this." But Louise Zwick of the Casa Juan Diego center for immigrants praised Guest's proposal, saying that denying preventive care to immigrants puts all residents "at risk of contracting untreated communicable diseases" (Brewer/Hegstrom, Houston Chronicle, 12/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.