Study indicates immigrants are not a healthcare cost burden

A recent article in Health Affairs disputes the widely held belief that immigrants place a large financial burden on the U.S. healthcare system.

"Trends In Health Care Spending For Immigrants In The United States" examined healthcare spending between 1999 and 2006 for both adult naturalized citizens and immigrant non-citizens, which included some undocumented immigrants. It found that the cost of providing healthcare to immigrants is lower than that of providing care to U.S. natives and that immigrants aren't contributing disproportionately to high healthcare costs in public programs like Medicaid.

"Healthcare expenditures for the average immigrant have not been a growing problem relative to expenditures among U.S. natives," the study's authors said. "It is likely that lower expenditures among non-citizens are due to lower need for services and to increasing barriers to care such as fear, lack of insurance or lack of a regular provider."

Jim P. Stimpson and Fernando A. Wilson, both assistant professors at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas, and Karl Eschbach, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for the years 1999-2006.

While expenditures increased for all groups, they said, average expenditures for non-citizens were about 50 percent smaller than for U.S. natives. In addition, they said, 50 percent of non-citizens had public per capita expenditures of $200 or less, while 50 percent of naturalized citizens had per capita public expenditures of up to $1,100, and established immigrants had higher expenditures than recent arrivals.

They did say, however, that with tighter residency requirements in public programs such as Medicaid, non-citizen immigrants, many living in poverty, were more likely than U.S. natives to have a healthcare visit classified as uncompensated care, although uncompensated care declined across all groups during this period.

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