UTexas Medical Branch May Stop Offering Cancer Care To Undocumented Immigrants

Sunday, December 2nd 2007, 2:15 pm
By: News On 6

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) The University of Texas Medical Branch may stop offering cancer care to indigent and undocumented immigrants in order to cut costs.

The UTMB set aside about $12 million in this year's $1.4 billion annual budget to treat indigent cancer patients, but that isn't enough to meet demand, said Karen Sexton, vice president and CEO of hospitals and clinics at the medical branch.

The medical branch laid off 381 employees last year as it dealt with inflation, state funding cuts and the growing number of Texans without health insurance.

Its Cancer Patients Acceptance Committee has been studying the issue of turning away undocumented immigrants to alleviate some of the financial pressure, but the possibility raises obvious ethical questions, Sexton said.

``Any time there's any restriction in access to care, there's pushback from people who are concerned about that,'' Sexton said. ``It doesn't feel right to us, either.''

The medical branch doesn't keep track of the number of undocumented, indigent cancer patients it treats.

Even if the policy were changed, the medical branch would not stop treating cancer patients already in its care. Once cancer treatment begins, hospitals and doctors are ethically bound to continue.

Unless Texans address the overall problems of the uninsured and funding for public hospitals, cash-strapped institutions must begin drawing lines, said Dr. Howard Brody, director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities and chair of the medical branch's ethics committee.

``If they want indigent folks to get care and want everybody in Texas to at least have a chance to have more access to medical care, then voters of Texas should step up and provide more resources,'' Brody said.