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Undocumented immigrants least likely to see a doctor, and disparities are getting worse

Due to the current political climate in the U.S., the report's authors are concerned that the disparities will only continue to get worse.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A child of a Mexican immigrant receives free health checkups at a mobile clinic outside the Mexican Consulate. Photo: John Moore/Getty ImagesA child of a Mexican immigrant receives free health checkups at a mobile clinic outside the Mexican Consulate. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Undocumented Latino immigrants have some of the lowest rates of healthcare use -- and signs point to it getting worse.

A Drexel University study used information from a health survey conducted between 2011 and 2015 in California to analyze healthcare access and use among Latinos. The researchers found that immigrant Latinos, especially undocumented immigrants, have much lower rates than U.S.-born Latinos and white citizens.

The numbers are also getting worse, trending downward from a similar study performed 15 years ago by lead author Alex Ortega, a professor in Drexel University's  Dornsife School of Public Health.

Because of a political climate that has made things difficult for immigrants of all ethnicities and backgrounds, Ortega and his team are concerned that the disparities will only continue to get worse.

The new study found less than half of the undocumented immigrants -- roughly 3,000 survey respondents -- had any type of health insurance.

And with about four in 10 not having a regular source of care or having seen a doctor at all, undocumented immigrants were at the bottom of both of those categories, too.

The survey showed that 61 percent of white patients reported being in "excellent" or "very good" health, compared to just 25 percent of undocumented immigrants. Yet despite that, undocumented immigrants were among the least likely to have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, heart disease or asthma.

Since they have a lower risk of chronic disease than U.S. citizens and even other immigrants, the findings contradict the political talking point that undocumented immigrants overburden the American healthcare system.

That still leaves the question: How is it possible that this population is less likely to see a doctor but still seems less prone to chronic disease?

"There are two ways to interpret this," said Ortega. "One way is that immigrants are not accessing services because they do not have a medical need. Another way is that they do not have physician-based diagnoses of chronic disease because they have not used primary care and preventive services that would provide the opportunity to be screened and diagnosed."

While both are possibilities, further research would be needed to determine why the dichotomy exists.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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