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Immigrants and Uninsurance in Today's Wall Street Journal

Immigrants and Uninsurance in Today's Wall Street Journal

June 14, 2005

Important new data from the respected Employee Benefits Research Institute:
"WASHINGTON -- Immigrants make up an increasing share of the nation's uninsured population, a new study shows, ... In 2003, immigrants accounted for about 26% of the uninsured, according to research released by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The nonpartisan Washington think tank, which analyzes economic security and employee benefits, said that of the 44.7 million people under 65 without health insurance living in the U.S., 11.6 million were immigrants, a 70% increase since 1994. In that year, 36.5 million were uninsured, meaning they weren't enrolled in public or private health care.

"Immigrants, both legal and illegal, are disproportionately uninsured," says Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the health policy and management department at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. "As those numbers rise, they're going to put an added burden" on local and national health services...

"While the institute's study didn't distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, Paul Fronstin, the study's author and the director of the health-research programs at the institute, said what was most significant was how quickly immigrants are becoming a larger segment of the uninsured. "The immigrant population accounted for 86% of the growth in the uninsured between 1998 and 2003," he says. "That's up significantly from how much it accounted for from 1994 to 1998, when immigration accounted for about a third."

"The study paints a dark picture of health coverage for immigrant noncitizens. About half of them lack health insurance. But immigrants who have become citizens fare much better, with only about 1-in-5 lacking health insurance. The problem is most acute in states with large numbers of immigrants, such as California, Texas, New York and Florida. Mr. Fronstin says one reason for the acceleration might have been the 1996 welfare-reform law, which set a five-year residency minimum for most new immigrants before they could take part in public programs such as Medicaid."