A new bill being considered by Florida lawmakers would stop insurance companies from dodging worker’s compensation claims by helping deport illegal immigrants injured on the job.
Legislators and immigration advocates have been pushing for reform since ProPublica and NPR published an expose on the practice last summer. Both outlets documented some 130 cases in which immigrants who’d suffered ‘legitimate workplace injuries’ were flagged to law enforcement by their employers’ insurance agencies.
The workers, writes ProPublica, often faced felony charges for using fraudulent medical cards while seeking care. And their insurers, more often than not, could escape having to pay claims they’d otherwise be bound to oblige.
The practice, apparently, is legally sanctioned. A provision contained with a 2003 worker’s compensation clause makes seeking treatment with a fake ID a serious crime.
However, the exception comes with a high moral cost – when illegal immigrants in need of healthcare are caught and slated for deportation, they often receive no ministration altogether.
Many of the 130 aliens turned in by insurers never filed for compensation claims. Instead, agencies would contact law enforcement after an individual went to the hospital or primary care physician for treatment. After reviewing a company’s request for care and the social security number of a worker, insurers would pass along seemingly-fraudulent information to police and immigration authorities.
‘Because the law also made it a crime to apply for a job with a fake ID,’ writes ProPublica, ‘hundreds of immigrant workers were charged with workers’ comp fraud even though they had never been injured or filed a claim.’
Critics of the law, according to ProPublica, say its effects are complex. Illegal immigrants are harmed both by deportation and an inability to receive care for injuries they sustained working in the United States.
But on top of that, letting insurers do with away such claims gives leverage to shifty and unscrupulous businesses. A construction company led by immoral management could, for instance, hire cheap, undocumented labor, all while knowing they can shirk medical expenses – expenses which would, ultimately, be borne by the ordinary American taxpayer.
“This has sent a signal throughout the workforce that if you’re injured, don’t report it, don’t tell your boss because you know that in order to keep from paying benefits, they’re going to call immigration on you,” said Rich Teplin of the Florida AFL-CIO. “You will wind up in the public healthcare system. That is essentially the taxpayer subsidizing the healthcare cost that should be paid by the employer and insurance carrier.”
A new bill introduced by Florida state Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale), would clarify what it means to commit fraud. The provision criminalizing use of fake identification would be scrapped, with punishment reserved solely for offenders claiming make-believe injuries or benefits they’d otherwise not be entitled to receive.
ProPublica notes that Florida, like every state, mandates that workers – including undocumented ones – have the right to receive medical care and lost wages through employers’ insurance.
“We have a whole separate system to deal with immigration status,” said Farmer. “All of that is neither here nor there. It comes down to the fact that these folks were doing their job, got hurt while they were doing their job, and the separate issue of immigration status shouldn’t be used to take away the benefits that they’re entitled to.”