At Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate, U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, the Democratic candidate, suggested U.S. policymakers should combat the the spread of the Ebola virus by giving West African immigrants Medicaid once they arrive in America.
“Any contagious outbreak like this one is a real cause for concern. When you look at what’s happening in West Africa, they have a lack of their health care system. Maine cannot solve this problem alone. But Maine can actually play an important role in this issue. The first Eboli, uh, Ebola patient showed up at the Dallas hospital with a 103 fever, at that hospital. Because he had no insurance, they gave him aspirin and sent him on his way. He contacted, he had contact with 50 other individuals. The virus doesn’t pick and choose who is infected. Our health care should not pick and choose who we care for. And the fact that this governor has vetoed not once but five times [Medicaid] expansion under the Affordable Care Act — that’s reckless, it’s wasteful and it leaves us vulnerable… And that’s why, uh, when you look at the whole Eboli issue the reason why they were turned away is because they had no insurance.”
Steve Mistler and Randy Billings, writing for the left-leaning Portland Press Herald, partially fact-checked Michaud’s claim:
“Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud misstated the facts Wednesday when the debate shifted to the treatment of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan… Duncan’s treatment has come under scrutiny, but not because health care workers in Dallas gave him aspirin. They gave him antibiotics, but not the experimental drug Zmapp that is being used to treat the deadly disease and had been prescribed to American patients Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. The two Americans survived. Duncan did not.”
Mistler and Billings could have gone further with their fact-check by pointing to established law in the United States that prohibits hospitals from denying treatment to individuals with life-threatening conditions.
In Roberts v. Galen of Virginia, Inc, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1985 means hospitals that benefit from non-profit tax exempt status, receive federal assistance, or participate in Medicare are obligated to “stabilize” patients with emergency medical conditions even if they lack health insurance. In other words, no one who shows up to a hospital with an emergency medical condition can legally be denied the care that the hospital would provide to the individual if he or she had full health insurance.
Michaud’s claim that Duncan’s unmistakably improper treatment was somehow related to Texas not providing him with medical welfare under Medicaid is inaccurate. It would be illegal under longstanding federal law for them to discriminate against Duncan because he did not have health insurance and was not enrolled in medical welfare.
Michaud’s position, as articulated in the debate, implies that he believes Maine ought to provide medical welfare to West African immigrants the moment they set foot in Maine, regardless of their immigration status. That position is far more radical than his controversial position that Maine should reimburse municipalities for General Assistance (GA) welfare payments made to undocumented immigrants.