Illegal immigrants claim small share of U.S. health dollars

Illegal immigrants claim small share of U.S. health dollars

Updated: June 20, 2013 10:02 AM
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THURSDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- Illegal immigrants account for only 1.4 percent of health spending in the United States and have lower health care costs than legal residents or naturalized and U.S.-born citizens, according to a new study.

This suggests they have insufficient access to health care, concludes study author Jim Stimpson, director of the Center for Health Policy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The researchers analyzed data from 2000 to 2009 and found that U.S.-born citizens spent $1 trillion on health care during that time. Spending by all immigrants -- legal and illegal -- was $96.7 billion and illegal immigrants accounted for $15.4 billion of that total, the researchers found.

"Today, undocumented immigrants and persons who immigrated less than five years ago have few options for health care access through public programs, leaving only the option to pay out of pocket or to secure private insurance," Stimpson said in a university news release.

About 6 percent of illegal immigrants received care for which providers were not reimbursed, compared with 2.8 percent of U.S.-born citizens. This may be because the immigrants are much more likely to have no health insurance, said Stimpson.

He said the findings, published in the June issue of the journal Health Affairs, reflect a history of policies that block access to care for unauthorized immigrants.

The safety net available for immigrants includes hospital emergency rooms and federally qualified health centers, but this type of limited access is insufficient, the researchers noted.

"These policies have merely shifted the financial burden of paying for the care of immigrants, and have potentially put the public's health at risk, when those who have infectious diseases defer treatment for illness," Stimpson said.

He said illegal immigrants should be given access to preventive and treatment services for infectious diseases and to the insurance marketplace.

More information

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides statistics on immigrants in the U.S..

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