Health Care at Center of Debate on Immigration
As the debate continues over the residency status of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., some "of the most heated arguments on the issue focus on health care" and whether such immigrants should be eligible for benefits, USA Today reports.
According to USA Today, "While state governments, Congress, the Bush administration and presidential candidates wrestle with how to provide health coverage to uninsured" U.S. residents, undocumented immigrants "rely on a patchwork of federally funded community health centers" and in many cases "free prescription samples or over-the-counter drugs." Undocumented immigrants are eligible for Medicaid coverage in emergencies but must pay out-of-pocket for nonemergency care and are ineligible for most public benefits.
For many undocumented immigrants, "the fear of deportation outweighs the pain of illness or injury, so they live with their afflictions ... until their health problems become critical," which "makes things worse -- for them, for the hospitals that eventually treat them and for taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill."
The health care costs associated with treating undocumented immigrants are unclear because hospitals and community health centers do not ask patients about their legal status. According to USA Today, a recent Congressional Budget Office report found that at the state and local level, undocumented immigrants cost more in public services such as education and health care than they pay in taxes. A 2004 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that undocumented immigrants in California cost the state $1.4 billion annually; similar studies in Colorado and Minnesota found that undocumented immigrants in 2005 cost the states $31 million and $17 million, respectively.
According to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center, 59% of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are uninsured, compared with 25% of documented immigrants and 14% of U.S. citizens. Undocumented immigrants account for about 15% of the nation's uninsured population, as well as for about 30% of the increase since 1980, USA Today reports. According to USA Today, proposals by leading Democratic presidential candidates likely would "mean little change in undocumented immigrants' health care status" because the proposals would not provide coverage for them (Wolf, USA Today, 1/22).