We Should All Be Ashamed

This Michael Smerconish radio interview with the president is pretty interesting reading, but there’s one part of it that just really bothers me. I understand that this is all politics, and that Obama is addressing a right-wing radio audience, but still, we should all be ashamed that this is the safe political answer:

Q: So my question is, could you please quickly list five or six bullet points of what legislation must include for you to be willing to sign it? For instance, employer mandates, tort reform, illegal immigrants — what about them? Must it include a public option?

OBAMA: I’d be happy to. First of all, you mentioned illegal immigrants. This has been an example of just pure misinformation out there. None of the bills that have been voted on in Congress, and none of the proposals coming out of the White House propose giving coverage to illegal immigrants — none of them. That has never been on the table; nobody has discussed it. So everybody who is listening out there, when you start hearing that somehow this is all designed to provide health insurance to illegal immigrants, that is simply not true and has never been the case.

SMERCONISH: What is their fate, if I might ask? Because there’s a 1986 law on the book that says if you show up at an ER, you’ve got to be treated.

OBAMA: Well, that will continue because we don’t want a situation in which some child, even if they’re an illegal immigrant, shows up in an emergency room with tuberculosis and nobody is giving them treatment, and then they’re going back to the playground and playing next to our kids.

So I think there is a basic standard of decency where if somebody is in a death situation or a severe illness, that we’re going to provide them emergency care. But nobody has talked about providing health insurance to illegal immigrants. I want to make that absolutely clear.

We’ll treat an immigrant kid with tuberculosis, because we don’t want him infecting our American kids, but you know, we’re not about to acknowledge the basic humanity of people who are enduring many hardships to give their families a better life, just as the ancestors of most of the population of America did.

This whole health care mess is enough to make a man lose his faith in people.


  1. Christopher says:

    Well, as someone in a binational relationship and pretty difficult medical situations — two long-term illnesses that require a fair amount of care — I know from exploring the options that my peers have taken to solving their immigration woes (mainly moving them and their partner to one of the countries that allow same-sex immigration) that we are basically up the creek. My medical conditions prevent me from moving to almost any place that has some form government health insured healthcare. I’m too much of a risk, and that wouldn’t pass the muster of an immigration board. (In Canada, for instance, I couldn’t ever make up the points lost for needing that kind of care.)

    So this seems pretty standard even in more enlightened countries. I’m not surprised by it, and in fact, I would expect it.

  2. Doug says:

    Christopher, that’s a sad reality. But I agree with Ryan. This is acutely embarrassing, while the norm is more chronically shameful.

  3. jack lecou says:

    Yeah, that stuck out to me too. In addition to the rather disgusting moral dimension, it doesn’t even make a lot of public health sense.

    That nasty little brown immigrant kid is going to be sharing the playgrounds with our good American children for many months before his condition gets bad or obvious enough to demand emergency room treatment. But the tuberculosis will still be contagious for most of that time.

  4. jack lecou says:

    Also, I’m not sure how it works in other countries exactly, but I think it’s one thing to consider health factors when evaluating legal immigration applications, and quite another to refuse necessary care to someone once they’re in the country (one way or the other).

    While the former is certainly unfortunate, it doesn’t strike me as quite on the same level as the latter, which seems both immoral AND fairly stupid (from a public health perspective).