Funding for Heath Coverage for Immigrants Is a Growing Problem
As Congress prepares to discuss patients' rights and Medicare reform, a "more complicated insurance problem is brewing" -- who should pay for immigrants' health insurance, columnist Jennifer Steinhauer writes in the New York Times. Welfare reform laws state that immigrants entering the United States after 1996 cannot receive Medicaid benefits during their first five years of residence. Steinhauer says that although there is "little political impetus to change" that law, "economic and public health issues have undeniably risen from it." According to new census figures, one in 10 people in the United States is foreign-born. Steinhauer writes that many cities, facing declining populations, are trying to attract immigrants to "stem labor shortages." But "denying government insurance programs to immigrants at a time when more employers are considering backing away from health benefits in general seems to contradict" this phenomenon, Steinhauer says.
Noting that there is "ample evidence that immigrants who work are uninsured," Steinhauer points to a new Commonwealth Fund study that found in 1999, 80% of white full-time workers and 75% of black full-time workers had employer-sponsored health coverage, compared with only 50% of Hispanic immigrants. Further, the issue of "who will foot the bill" for immigrants' health care costs is "murky," Steinhauer writes. The "economic fallout" usually lands on public hospitals and clinics, which treat a large number of uninsured patients in their emergency rooms and turn to the government for higher reimbursements, Steinhauer says. Steinhauer concludes: "Offering public health insurance, even at small premiums, to at least those immigrants who pay taxes has some universal benefits. The cost of treating the sickest uninsured eventually comes back to the general population through tax increases passed on as subsidies to hospitals or through higher insurance premiums" (Steinhauer, New York Times, 6/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.