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Immigrants’ Health Care Costs are Low; Harvard Study: Immigrants Use Half as Much Care as Non-Immigrant Americans


CHICAGO -- Immigrants in the U.S. receive surprisingly little health care –- 55 percent less than native-born Americans -- according to a Harvard/Columbia University study that appearing Monday evening in the American Journal of Public Health. Immigrant children received particularly low levels of care, 74 percent less overall than other children.

According to the study, immigrants accounted for 10.4 percent of the U.S. population, but only 7.9 percent of total health spending, and only 8 percent of government health spending. Per capita health expenditures averaged $1,139 per immigrant vs. $2,564 for non- immigrants. 30 percent of immigrants used no healthcare at all in the course of a year.

Dr. Sarita Mohanty commented: “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. 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.”

“Our data indicates that many immigrants are actually helping to subsidize care for the rest of us. 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,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a study co-author and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Immigrant children received far less care in doctors’ offices (71 percent less than non-immigrant children) and received 72 percent less prescription medications. Immigrant children had a significantly lower average number of emergency room visits than non- immigrant children. However, their emergency room costs -- $45 per child -- were nearly three times greater –- suggesting that immigrant children forewent care until becoming very ill.

Most immigrants had health insurance coverage. Though uninsured immigrants used the least health care of any group –- 61 percent less than US-born persons who were uninsured -- even immigrants with coverage used 52 percent less health care than insured non- immigrants.

The study is the first nationwide analysis of immigrants’ health care expenditures. The researchers analyzed data on 21,241 people in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 1998 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which collects detailed health spending data on a representative cross-section of Americans. They used statistical techniques to adjust comparisons between immigrants and non-immigrants for differences between the two groups in age, race/ethnicity income, health status, and insurance status.

According to study co-author Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons: “Latino immigrants had the lowest health expenditures -- $962 per person -- half those of US-born Latinos ($1,870) and less than one third those of US-born whites ($3,117). The future economic success of the United States depends on a healthy immigrant workforce.”


Additional contact: Nicholas Skala of the Physicians for a National Health Program, 312-782-6006.


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