Sharing the cost with illegal immigrants

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The primary goal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is to reduce the number of uninsured American citizens while reducing healthcare costs; however, it excludes a significant population from its provisions: illegal immigrants.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that “in March 2010 there were approximately 40.2 million foreign-born persons in the United States, out of which approximately 11.2 million (28%) were estimated to be illegal aliens.

While the majority of these undocumented immigrants were either publicly or privately insured (as of 2008), millions are left to rely on emergency services provided by safety-net hospitals, costing the federal government an estimated $20 billion dollars each year in reimbursements. Excluding illegal immigrants from the PPACA will not only increase federal expenditures, as the population of the undocumented and uninsured grows, but it will also have critical public health consequences as individuals will likely seek emergency treatment at an advanced stage of disease.

It has been shown that illegal immigrants tend to be healthier than their US-born counterparts and seek health care services less frequently. Although there are different explanations for this including language barriers and disparities in access to health care, the fact is that whether insured or uninsured, their medical expenditures are twice as low as those of US citizens. Given these tendencies, it is thus reasonable to extend their access to health care by including them into the pool of the insured, ultimately helping to spread the population’s health risks.

Just last week, the Obama administration officially initiated a program that allows young illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children to apply for temporary work permits. So, why is it acceptable to grant illegal immigrants work permits but not access to health care?

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One Response to “Sharing the cost with illegal immigrants”

  1. MMClancy Says:

    Very interesting article you cite regarding reduced medical expenditures by immigrants. I don’t know that it concludes they are “healthier”, but it is definitely counter to the common argument about illegal immigrants being a strain on the US healthcare system. (I agree with many others in that it’s the uninsured of any ethnicity that are the strain…)
    Clearly though, the PPACA is a very political piece of legislation, barely passed through a polarized Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. I think that the politics alone explain why there’s no assistance to non-naturalized citizens. Not a public health decision at all, but one fueled by the politics of the time.

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