By Dr. Michele Waslin
For Northwest Asian Weekly
As the current debate on health care rages in town halls across the nation, immigration is being used as a way to jam a stick into the wheels of impending reform.
Some are scapegoating immigrants as a way to thwart progress on the issue and are further arguing that legal immigrants should be restricted from our health care system.
Linking these two issues does nothing to advance necessary reforms to either health care or immigration.
The United States can do both, but public debate and discussion must be based on facts, not myths and misinformation.
The United States is not spending “too much” on health care for immigrants.
A July 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health found that insured immigrants had much lower medical expenses than insured U.S.-born citizens. Insured immigrants’ per-person medical expenditures were one-half to two-thirds less than their U.S.-born counterparts with similar characteristics.
Recent immigrants constituted 5 percent of the nonelderly adult population but were responsible for 2 percent of adults’ total health care costs, making their share disproportionately low.
The vast majority of people in America who don’t have health insurance are U.S. citizens.
The majority of people who do not have insurance are U.S. citizens. Noncitizens comprise a relatively small portion of the uninsured population. Four out of five people in America who have no insurance are U.S. citizens.
U.S. citizens make up the majority of the uninsured (78 percent), while legal and undocumented immigrants account for 22 percent of the nonelderly uninsured.
Furthermore, U.S. citizens account for most of the growth in the number of uninsured individuals between 2000 and 2006.
Citizens made up approximately 80 percent of the growth in the number of the uninsured in the United States, while noncitizens accounted for approximately 20 percent of the growth.
The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that in 2005, undocumented immigrants made up only a small share of California’s uninsured population. Nearly four in five of California’s uninsured adults and children were citizens and legal immigrants.
Contrary to popular belief, noncitizens are significantly less likely to use emergency room services than U.S. citizens.
According to the non-partisan Kaiser Commission, noncitizens have poorer access to care and receive less primary health care than citizens.
However, they are still less likely than citizens to use the emergency room. In 2006, 20 percent of U.S.-citizen adults and 22 percent of U.S.-citizen children visited an emergency room within the past year.
In contrast, 13 percent of noncitizen adults and 12 percent of noncitizen children used emergency room care. Despite the myths, immigrants use less health care, including emergency room care, compared to U.S. citizens. A 2006 study published in Health Affairs found that communities with high rates of emergency room usage tend to have relatively small noncitizen populations.
Cities with large immigrant populations, such as in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Phoenix, have much lower rates of emergency room use than areas with small immigrant populations such as Cleveland. ♦
Michele Waslin, Ph.D., is the senior policy analyst at the Immigration Policy Center. She has authored several publications on immigration policy and post-9/11 immigration issues.
Waslin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.