Texas Hospital Left Holding the Bag for Treating Unaccompanied Children

Coming soon to an emergency room near you

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 1, 2021

Fox News reported last week that the Midland Memorial Hospital has not been paid for more than $200,000 in healthcare it provided to unaccompanied alien children (UACs) whom the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) transferred from the border to the inland city of Midland, Texas. That raises some serious questions, and is a bad sign for costs that will be coming to hospital near you soon.

After Border Patrol apprehends unaccompanied children at the border, it is supposed to transfer those children to HHS custody under a problematic 2008 law. HHS places the UACs in shelters that it has contracts for (the norm) or runs (the emergency fallback).

Most of the children are thereafter placed with “sponsors” in the United States, usually family members — including their parents — most of whom are also here illegally, who often were the ones who paid to have them smuggled here in the first place.

HHS only has about 13,700 permanent shelter beds for those children (cost: $290 per child per day), however, and so in the recent migrant surge, it has had to scramble to set up numerous temporary facilities (cost: $775 per child per day) that can hold more than 16,000 children.

One of those temporary facilities was set up in Midland in March. Local officials complained at the time that they had been “completely blindsided” by the federal government’s decision to put those children there, and Midland Mayor Patrick Payton described the placement of that facility as “disrespectful” to his town.

Apparently, the disrespect did not end there.

On May 27, local congressman August Pfluger (R-Texas) reported that he had only just been told that “at least” 40 unaccompanied children from the HHS facility in Midland had been treated at Midland Memorial Hospital.

Those children had “rack[ed] up charges in excess of $200,000”, but HHS hadn’t processed a single claim to pay back Midland Memorial Hospital.

Those kids did not all come in for Bactine and bandages. Rather, “two cases involved pregnancies, four were for suicide attempts and one was a sexual assault exam”, in addition to an untold number of others who had been treated for other ailments, including Covid-19.

Like most American cities, Midland had its hands full with Covid cases before HHS showed up. The city of just under 177,000 reported it has had 17,614 cases of the novel coronavirus (13.5 percent involving individuals under the age of 19) and 255 Covid-19 related deaths. Some 731 individuals are currently in isolation.

There are three major takeaways here.

First, if the Biden administration is not going to take the steps that it needs to (and could easily) take to stem the surge of unaccompanied children at the Southwest border, and is going to foist those children on cities across the United States in an apparent attempt to hide the severity of the problem, it needs to pay its bills for doing so.

Second, the medical issues Rep. Pfluger referenced highlight the “Hunger Games”-like trek that those children make on their way to the United States (encouraged by loopholes created by U.S.-law and administration policy), and/or the conditions in HHS detention.

How exactly did two girls in HHS custody end up pregnant, and how did the case of sexual assault occur? If the Biden administration is going to continue to encourage UACs to enter illegally, it bears full blame for the Hieronymus Bosch hellscape that those children encounter on the trip here, and must ensure that they don’t suffer further harm in its own HHS facilities.

That question is actually much more salient than the fact that HHS is not paying its bills, and requires more oversight and transparency.

Third, Midland Memorial Hospital may be left holding the bag today, but your local emergency room will be facing an even bigger problem tomorrow.

That hospital (and Rep. Pfluger) can dun HHS for the treatment that its doctors, nurses, and staff have provided, but whom does, say, Johns Hopkins or Piedmont Atlanta Hospital send the charges to after children end up on their doorsteps, once they are placed with sponsors?

Here’s your answer: Nobody. You, and your healthcare plan (meaning you again), will foot the bill; it will show up in the form of higher charges and premiums.

Of course, it will also show up in the form of longer waits for treatment, and even more stressed out medical professionals.

Right now, the smugglers are calling the shots at the border (as my colleague Todd Bensman has vividly illustrated), and the Biden administration is simply doing triage on migrants it is allowing into this country. It does not have to be this way, but as long as the administration allows it to continue, it must be held accountable. And pay its bills.