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Unauthorized Immigrants Account for Only 1.4 Percent of US Medical Spending


Bethesda, MD -- A new study, being released today as a Web First by Health Affairs, found that unauthorized immigrants have lower health care expenditures compared to legal residents, naturalized citizens, and US natives. Although US natives spent $1 trillion on health care, all immigrants--unauthorized, legal, and illegal--spent one-tenth that amount, or $96.7 billion between 2000 and 2009. Unauthorized immigrants accounted for $15.4 billion of that total, or 15.9 percent.


Analyzing health expenditure data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for the years 2000-09 by nativity and legal status, the study found that 7.9 percent of unauthorized immigrants had health care spending from public sources averaging $140 per person per year. By contrast, 30.1 percent of US natives had health care spending from public sources for an average of $1,385 per person per year. Average emergency department expenditures for unauthorized immigrants were $54 per year, compared to $138 per year for US natives.

Unauthorized Immigrants Spend Less Than Other Immigrants And US Natives On Health Care


By Jim P. Stimpson, Fernando A. Wilson, and Dejun Su


The authors are affiliated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.


The study will also appear in the July issue of Health Affairs.


The authors also found that an estimated 5.9 percent of unauthorized immigrants received care that providers are not reimbursed for, compared to 2.8 percent of US natives in the same category. The authors posited that this may be because unauthorized immigrants are much more likely to lack health insurance when compared to US natives.


According to the authors, these findings reflect "a history of policies that block access to health care for unauthorized immigrants". They recommend providing unauthorized immigrants "access to preventative and treatment services for infectious diseases [and] giving them access to the insurance marketplace." Federal immigration reform, they conclude "could also address immigrants' limited access to health care, assuming there is the political will to do so."


Note: Health Affairs recently published a related study about US immigrant health spending. It found that immigrants contribute more than they take out from the Medicare Trust Fund.

About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically at The full text of each Health Affairs Web First paper is available free of charge to all website visitors for a one-week period following posting, after which it switches to pay-per-view for nonsubscribers. Web First papers are supported in part by a grant from The Commonwealth Fund. You can also find the journal on Facebook and Twitter. Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download our podcasts, including monthly Narrative Matters essays, on iTunes. Tap into Health Affairs content with the new iPad app.