|LAREDO, August 25 - At present undocumented children do not get healthcare from the government but that needs to change if the U.S. wants to have a healthy, productive workforce in the future.
This is the view of Dr. Gilbert Handal, vice-chair of Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s medical care advisory committee. Speaking at the conclusion of the 8th Annual Border Health Conference, the El Paso-based physician said needs to provide “some kind of legalized insurance for undocumented children.”
Handal discussed his power point presentation with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar. It showed projections of a declining U.S. population after 2025 and an increased burden on those in the workforce to pay for the healthcare needs of retiring Baby Boomers. Cuellar, D-Laredo, who hosted the conference, said he was aware of the stats in one of the slides, which showed that immigration from Mexico is dropping at a fast rate.
“The fertility rate in this country has dropped from 2.5 in the 1970s to 1.0. The population will shrink around 2035. The working age population is going to drop tremendously. I am not saying open the doors. I am saying control immigration to what is convenient for us as a country,” Handal told Cuellar.
“We are not going to have enough workers. For every 20 seniors that retire we had 150 workers in 1950, 100 in 2000 and we will have only 56 in 2050. Who is going to work for those that retire?”
Handal said solving the issue of who is going to do the work in the future is not easy. He said it is complex. Part of the answer is increasing the retirement age, so that people work for as long as they want to. He said new technology is going to be needed to make the workforce more productive. And, he said, undocumented children are going to have to be looked after so they grow up into healthy, well-educated and productive workers. “A lot of the kids that are here need to receive healthcare early, so they are not sick. We need them to be healthy when they grow up. We need to take care of them now, when it does not cost so much. We need to take care of the kids that are here. It is a must,” Handal told Cuellar.
Handal told the Guardian later that about 35 states in the union restrict legal immigrants from getting any kind of government assistance for five years. As for undocumented immigrants, forget it, he said, they get nothing. “The child that lives here ought to be cared for because that child is going to grow into one of the workers we need. We are going to have an aging population. Ten thousand Baby Boomers retire every day. By 2025, our population stops growing. There is no way they can make ends meet. Our society is going to go down the drain. Medicare will be defunct,” Handal warned.
Compounding the issue, Handal said, is that Mexico is not sending as many workers over as it used to. He said the all-time high for undocumented immigrants from Mexico was the 2005-2009 period. Since then it has been dropping, partly because of the recession in the U.S. and partly because the Mexican economy is improving.
“Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product was up five percent last year. Here it was 1.5 percent higher. The Mexican immigrants are not coming here. They are going back home. The people that are coming are from the developing countries that have a much lower GDP, like Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Those guys do not have the work ethic the Mexicans have. They don’t. They do not contribute like the Mexican labor force does. They are totally different.”
Handal is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) at El Paso and is board certified in general pediatrics. He received his medical degree from the University of Chile Escuela de Pregrado and completed an internal medicine internship and a pediatric residency at the University of Chile Escuela de Pregrado. He continued his fellowship training in pediatrics, pediatric critical care, and pediatric infectious diseases at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. He holds the Marta Cuellar Chair for Child Advocacy and is also the Director of the Office for Global Health at the TTUHSC Paul Foster School of Medicine.
Handal was one of the speakers on a panel that discussed recruiting, training and retaining physicians on the border. Other speakers on this panel included Elmo Lopez, CEO of South Texas Health System, and John Hawkins, senior vice president for advocacy and public policy at the Texas Hospital Association. Hawkins said financial cutbacks by the state of Texas in 2003 had hit residency programs hard and they have never really recovered.
Earlier, Congressman Cuellar had suggested that the U.S. works with Mexico on the importation of more nurses. However, Hilda Davila, general director of international relations for the Mexico Health Secretariat, said Mexico does not want to lose its health care professionals to the U.S. She said Mexico does not support the sending of its nurses to the U.S. like the Philippines does.
“We can work with the United States on getting those Mexican nurses that are here accredited and totally bilingual. But, we do not want to bring Mexican professionals here because we need them,” Davila said. “The ones that are here, the qualified nurses who are now working in the hotels, we need to do good outreach, do the proper training for them, and get them properly accredited and totally bilingual. In fact, we would like to have them back because they are hardworking, responsible people.”