Health Care Spending: Why Immigrants Aren’t the Problem

July 30, 2013
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immigrants and medicareI recently wrote a piece highlighting research that shows that immigrants actually strengthen the Medicare program, because they pay more money into it than they spend.

immigrants and medicareI recently wrote a piece highlighting research that shows that immigrants actually strengthen the Medicare program, because they pay more money into it than they spend. But many of you may have noticed that one of the reasons for that is that undocumented immigrants, and legal immigrants with less than 5 years as U.S. residents are not eligible for public programs like Medicaid or Medicare. This doesn’t phase critics of immigration, however. Instead, they claim, immigrants take a toll on the American taxpayer through the use of high levels of uncompensated care and crowd our emergency departments.

The great thing about data, though, is that it does a tremendous job of poking holes in these empirically unfounded, albeit widely held, assertions. A research group out of the University of Nebraska, headed by Jim Stimpson recently published some interesting findings in the July issue of Health Affairs. They report that, from 2000 to 2009, all U.S. immigrants (legal and illegal) accounted for a total of $96.5 billion in health care spending, while native-born U.S. citizens accounted for more than $1 trillion in health care spending. Of course, this simply underscores that immigrants are a relatively small proportion of the population. In fact, undocumented immigrants account for less than 1.5% of total U.S. health care spending. In the grand scheme of things, that is practically a rounding error.

The authors also report that while nearly one-third of native-born U.S. citizens benefit from public health care programs, fewer than 8% of undocumented immigrants do so. Moreover, the average amount of the benefit is markedly different: $1,385 for native-born citizens, compared to $140 for undocumented immigrants). And that emergency room crowding issue? Native-born citizens spend an average of $138 a year on emergency room care, compared to just $54 among undocumented immigrants. It’s easy for us to blame “others” for our problems, but these data demonstrate rather clearly that when we do so, we are merely fooling ourselves into avoiding the reality that we–the native-born sons and daughters of the United States of America–are the ones bleeding this country dry.

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(immigrants / shutterstock)