Study: Immigrants use less health care, subsidize the rest of us

immigrant photoImage via Pixabay

President Trump routinely charges that immigrants drive up the cost of health care for non-immigrants and the White House is reportedly considering a policy that would discourage immigrants from seeking care. But a new study from Harvard and Tufts says it’s just not so.

“[I]mmigrants are propping up the Medicare Trust Fund by paying much more into Medicare than they will ever receive in benefits,” said study author Lila Flavin, a medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine, in a news release. “Recent immigrants are substantially healthier than native-born Americans, which benefits the American health care economy.”

But Flavin said that despite their generally better state of health, new immigrants — and all Americans — need access to good health care to stay healthy over the long term.

“Denying care to immigrants is a human rights violation that cannot be justified based on costs, and indeed may raise costs in the future,” she said.

“Chilling effect”

The Washington Post reported today that the Trump administration is “seriously considering a new policy that would penalize legal immigrants seeking permanent status for accepting health-care services paid for by the government.”

The rule, which is expected to be officially announced soon per NBC News, would change the definition of when a legal immigrant is considered a “public charge” to the government, and impact the decision over whether they qualify for permanent resident status.

The Post report said the proposed policy has already had a chilling effect on immigrants use of health care. Doctors have “witnessed examples on the ground of people not wanting to access their local providers because they’re afraid if they take their kids for a checkup it will be communicated to the federal government,” Alberto Gonzalez of the advocacy group Community Catalyst told the newspaper.

About the study

In the study, published today in the International Journal of Health Services, researchers examined all studies published since 2000 related to health care expenditures by immigrants. Compared to U.S.-born individuals, immigrants were found to have lower rates of utilization and lower per capita expenditures from private and public insurance sources; health expenditures were particularly low for undocumented immigrants.

Across all age groups, immigrants’ utilization was only one-half to two-thirds as high as that of the U.S.-born population. Immigrants also made larger out-of-pocket health care payments compared to those born in the U.S.

Researchers concluded that as a group, immigrants effectively subsidized private insurance and some public insurance programs such as Medicare because they constitute a low-risk pool that pays more into the system (by way of premiums and tax contributions) than is paid out for their care.

“Our findings show that immigrants are clearly bringing down per capita health care costs and are likely subsidizing care for native-born Americans. Instead of attacking immigrants for driving up costs, we should recognize their proven economic contributions,”  said senior author Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, a psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Harvard’s Center for Bioethics.

About the Author

James R. Hood
James R. Hood is the editor and publisher of Rx411. He is a former Associated Press and United Press International executive and the founder of several prominent online sites including ConsumerAffairs and FairfaxNews.