Some States Refusing To Release Refugee Health Data


Some of the states who have received the highest numbers of Syrian refugees are hiding information on the refugees’ health, refusing to turn it over unless a Freedom of Information Act request is filed.

Even more alarming, the state of Michigan has admitted that “an individual can’t be forced to undergo a medical screening.”  

Breitbart News announced Thursday that Michigan responded with a request for a Freedom of Information Act request to be filed when asked for refugee health data.

Michigan has received the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita of any state.  In 2016, the federal government increased the number of refugees by 43 percent, sending a total of 1,115 out of 10,700 Syrian refugees to Michigan in the past eleven months.

Breitbart says they have filed the request, asking for refugee health data for a five-year period from 2011-2015, including the percentage of refugees who actually undergo domestic medical screening.

The Refugee Act of 1980, and existing public health laws in most states, require and promote transparency on reporting diseases that can impact public health, but Michigan, along with other states including New York, Massachusetts and Kentucky, are not complying with those requirements.

States that do publish annual reports on refugee health data include California, Texas, Indiana, Utah, Arizona, Minnesota and Florida.

Other states have turned over the data when requested, but do not publish annual reports.  They are Louisiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Colorado.

Idaho has been willing to provide partial data, but refused to turn over complete data without a FOI request.

Tennessee has also drug their feet.  They do not provide annual reports, and although they have turned over partial data on latent TB infection rates, they have refused to supply data on active TB cases.

Bob Wheaton, director of communications for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told Breitbart News last week, “Michigan requires doctors, clinics and health departments that have contracts for providing medical screenings to include a test for LTB1. However, an individual can’t be forced to undergo a medical screening. Almost all refugees do undergo medical screenings because they want to identify any health problems.”

This answer causes serious alarm, as there is no indication what percentage is “almost all” and what percentage of refugees do not undergo a domestic health screen at all.

Michigan and other states who conceal refugee health data use the argument that the public does not have a right to know this information, and claim the Refugee Act of 1980 does not require them to report the data.

However, Breitbart maintains that the Refugee Act of 1980 does require that refugee resettlement agencies must assure “that refugees, known to the agency as having been identified . . . as having medical conditions affecting the public health and requiring treatment [such as active and latent TB], report to the appropriate county or other health agency,” and that their health status is subsequently monitored by both the county or other health agencies.

When county, state, or other health agencies have this data which can have an impact on public health in their possession but conceal it from the public, the most common justification provided by the governmental entities and resettlement agencies is that providing data on the entire refugee population in a specific area would be a violation of HIPAA laws and regulations that govern individual health privacy.

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