Unauthorized Immigrants Account for Only 1.4 Percent of US Medical Spending

From the Health Affairs blog:

A new study . . . found that unauthorized immigrants have lower health care expenditures compared to legal residents, naturalized citizens, and US natives. Although US natives spent $1 trillion on health care, all immigrants–unauthorized, legal, and illegal–spent one-tenth that amount, or $96.7 billion between 2000 and 2009. Unauthorized immigrants accounted for $15.4 billion of that total, or 15.9 percent. Analyzing health expenditure data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for the years 2000-09 by nativity and legal status, the study found that 7.9 percent of unauthorized immigrants had health care spending from public sources averaging $140 per person per year. By contrast, 30.1 percent of US natives had health care spending from public sources for an average of $1,385 per person per year. Average emergency department expenditures for unauthorized immigrants were $54 per year, compared to $138 per year for US natives.

The authors also found that an estimated 5.9 percent of unauthorized immigrants received care that providers are not reimbursed for, compared to 2.8 percent of US natives in the same category. The authors posited that this may be because unauthorized immigrants are much more likely to lack health insurance when compared to US natives.

According to the authors, these findings reflect “a history of policies that block access to health care for unauthorized immigrants”. They recommend providing unauthorized immigrants “access to preventative and treatment services for infectious diseases [and] giving them access to the insurance marketplace.” Federal immigration reform, they conclude “could also address immigrants’ limited access to health care, assuming there is the political will to do so.”

Unauthorized Immigrants Spend Less Than Other Immigrants And US Natives On Health Care, Jim P. Stimpson, Fernando A. Wilson, and Dejun Su.  http://content.healthaffairs.org/lookup/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2013.0113.  The authors are affiliated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  The study will also appear in the July issue of Health Affairs.

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