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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

New Study Debunks Immigrant Health Bashing

New Study Debunks Immigrant Health Bashing

July 27, 2005

A new study in the American Journal of Public Health documents that health expenditures for immigrants are substantially lower than for US born persons. This is important because immigrants are often blamed for high costs of the health care safety net, and such erroneous conclusions are used to justify denying coverage to non-citizens. Here are some juicy data bits:

-- Per capita health expenditures for immigrants were 55% lower than those of US born persons ($1139 vs. $2546); immigrant children had 74% lower health expenditures than US born children.

-- Immigrants account for 10.4% of the US population, and only 7.9% of health care expenditures.

-- Immigrant health expenditures in 1998 were $39.5 billion; $25B were payments by private insurers, $2.8B was paid directly by immigrants, and $11.7B was paid by government sources. Per capita expenditures were lower for immigrants in every payer category.

As the authors point out, the National Research Council concluded that immigrants add as much as $10B each year to the nation's economy, and that immigrants pay on average $80,000 per capita more in taxes than they use in government services over their lifetimes. The Social Security Administration estimates that workers without valid social security numbers contribute $8.5B annually to Social Security and Medicare even though they claim no benefits for their contributions.

Great job by the authors -- three of whom work at Cambridge Hospital: Drs. Steffie Woolhandler, David Himmelstein, and David Bor. And let's quit the immigrant bashing. And thank you to the Massachusetts House and Senate for restoring health benefits for elderly and disabled legal immigrants.