Immigrants do not overwhelm healthcare - study

Monday, July 25, 2005; 5:18 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Immigrants are not swamping the U.S. health care system and use it far less than native-born Americans, according to a study released on Monday.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that immigrants accounted for 10.4 percent of the U.S. population but only 7.9 percent of total health spending and 8 percent of government health spending.

Health spending by the government, insurers and patients themselves averaged $1,139 per immigrant compared to $2,564 for non-immigrants. Thirty percent of immigrants used no health care at all in the course of the year.

Immigrant children spent or cost $270 that year, compared to $1,059 for native-born children.

"Our study lays to rest the myth that expensive care for immigrants is responsible for our nation's high health costs. The truth is, immigrants get far less care than other Americans," Dr. Sarita Mohanty, who led the study while she was at Harvard University and who is now at the University of Southern California, said in a statement.

"Further restricting their eligibility for care would save little money and place many immigrants -- particularly children -- at grave risk. Already, many immigrant children fail to get regular checkups and as a result more end up needing emergency care, or get no care at all."

The researchers used U.S. government data taken in a 1998 survey from U.S. residents, including natural-born citizens, immigrants who had become citizens, temporary residents and illegal aliens.

"The only case in which immigrants' costs for health care were higher than U.S.-born children was in emergency department visits ($45 vs. $18 per capita)," the researchers said in a statement.

Most immigrants had health insurance, the survey found. It said 58 percent of immigrants had private insurance, compared to 74.9 percent of native-born U.S. citizens, and 17.3 percent of immigrants had some sort of public insurance such as Medicare or Medicaid, compared to 15 percent of natives.

"Our data indicates that many immigrants are actually helping to subsidize care for the rest of us," Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program and one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

"Immigrant families are paying taxes -- including Medicare payroll taxes -- and most pay health insurance premiums, but they're getting only half as much care as other families."

"We constantly hear anti-immigrant extremists, elected officials and media commentators making baseless claims about how immigrants are contributing to our nation's high health care costs," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democratic and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, said in a statement.

"This comprehensive new study shows just how unfounded these allegations are and I hope it will permanently put to rest these misinformed and misguided myths."

In 2000, there were 28.4 million immigrants in the United States , including legal and non-legal residents.