By Lila Flavin, Leah Zallman, Danny McCormick, and J. Wesley Boyd
International Journal of Health Services, August 8, 2018
In health care policy debates, discussion centers around the often-misperceived costs of providing medical care to immigrants. This review seeks to compare health care expenditures of U.S. immigrants to those of U.S.-born individuals and evaluate the role which immigrants play in the rising cost of health care. We systematically examined all post-2000, peer-reviewed studies in PubMed related to health care expenditures by immigrants written in English in the United States. The reviewers extracted data independently using a standardized approach. Immigrants’ overall expenditures were one-half to two-thirds those of U.S.-born individuals, across all assessed age groups, regardless of immigration status. Per capita expenditures from private and public insurance sources were lower for immigrants, particularly expenditures for undocumented immigrants. Immigrant individuals made larger out-of-pocket health care payments compared to U.S.-born individuals. Overall, immigrants almost certainly paid more toward medical expenses than they withdrew, providing a low-risk pool that subsidized the public and private health insurance markets. We conclude that insurance and medical
care should be made more available to immigrants rather than less so.
From the Discussion
Many Americans, including some in the health care sector, mistakenly believe that immigrants are a financial drain on the U.S. health care system, costing society disproportionately more than the U.S.-born population, i.e., themselves. Our review of the literature overwhelmingly showed that immigrants spend less on health care, including publicly funded health care, compared to their U.S.-born counterparts. Moreover, immigrants contributed more towards Medicare than they withdrew; they are net contributors to Medicare’s trust fund.
Our research categorized immigrants into different groups, but in all categories, these studies found that immigrants accrued fewer health care expenditures than U.S.-born individuals. Among the different payment sources – public, private, or out-of-pocket – public and private expenditures were lower for immigrants, with immigrants spending more out-of-pocket. Differences decreased the longer immigrants resided in the United States.
While annual U.S. medical spending in 2016 was a staggering $3.3 trillion, immigrants accounted for less than 10% of the overall spending – and recent immigrants were responsible for only 1% of total spending. Given these figures, it is unlikely that restrictions on immigration into the United States would result in a meaningful decrease in health care spending. To the contrary, restricting immigration would financially destabilize some parts of the health care economy, as suggested by Zallman and colleagues, who found that immigrants contributed $14 billion more to the Medicare trust fund than they withdrew.
Fiscal responsibility is an important reason for the United States to provide insurance for newly arrived immigrants, as they could continue to enlarge the low-risk pool of healthy individuals that helps offset the cost of insuring high-risk individuals. Currently, under the ACA, undocumented immigrants cannot enroll in the state health care exchanges. If we are seeking to minimize costs, which would seem a major factor in the reasoning of policymakers who would deny immigrants care, then it makes financial sense to enroll individuals who will (on average) contribute more to the health care system than they withdraw. Healthy, young immigrants are precisely whom we should target for Medicaid enrollment, state exchanges, or private health insurance.
A New Threat to Immigrants’ Health — The Public-Charge Rule
By Krista M. Perreira, Ph.D., Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Ph.D., and Jonathan Oberlander, Ph.D.
The New England Journal of Medicine, August 1, 2018
The United States is making major changes to its immigration policies that are spilling over into health policy. In one such change, the Trump administration is drafting a rule on “public charges” that could have important consequences for access to medical care and the health of millions of immigrants and their families. The concept of a public charge dates back to 19th-century immigration law. Under current guidelines, persons labeled as potential public charges can be denied legal entry to the United States. They can also be prevented from adjusting their status from a nonimmigrant visa category (e.g., a student or work visa) to legal permanent resident status. In addition, if they become public charges within the first 5 years after their admission to the United States, for reasons that existed before they came to the country, in rare cases they can be arrested and deported. Immigrants and their families consequently have strong incentives to avoid being deemed public charges.
In evaluating whether a person is likely to become a public charge, immigration officials take account of factors such as age, health, financial status, education, and skills. The use of cash assistance for income maintenance (e.g., Supplemental Security Income or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and government-funded long-term care are considered in making these determinations. Other noncash benefits such as health and nutrition programs are specifically excluded from consideration, and use of cash-assistance benefits by the immigrant’s dependents is not currently factored in.
The Trump administration is proposing sweeping changes to these guidelines. A draft rule from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would substantially expand the definition of a public charge to include any immigrant who “uses or receives one or more public benefits.” Not just cash assistance but nearly all public benefits from federal, state, or local governments would be considered in public-charge determinations, including nonemergency Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and subsidized health insurance through the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA); Medicare would be excluded. The DHS draft notes that in making these determinations, “having subsidized insurance will generally be considered a heavily weighted negative factor.” The broadened definition of public charge would also encompass food assistance (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] and the Women, Infants, and Children Program [WIC]), programs designed to assist low-income workers (e.g., the Earned Income Tax Credit [EITC]), housing assistance (Section 8 vouchers), and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Moreover, not only immigrants’ use of public assistance but use of these programs by any dependents, including U.S.-born citizen spouses and children, would also be considered.
The potential impact of these changes is enormous. In 2016, about 43.7 million immigrants lived in the United States. If enacted, the new regulations would affect people seeking to move to the United States to be reunified with family members and to work, as well as lawfully present immigrants who hope to become legal permanent residents (green-card holders). One estimate suggests that nearly one third of U.S.-born persons could have their use of public benefits considered in the public-charge determination of a family member. This includes “10.4 million citizen children with at least one noncitizen parent.” Notably, unauthorized immigrants are not the primary target of the draft rule, since they are already ineligible for most federally funded public assistance. Instead, lawfully present immigrants would bear the brunt, as well as persons living in “mixed-status” families (those in which some members are citizens and others are not) and persons living abroad who wish to immigrate to the United States.
We believe that the draft public-charge regulation represents a substantial threat to lawfully present immigrants’ access to public programs and health care services. What modifications may be made is uncertain — after the rule is formally proposed, there will be a public comment period, and revisions could be made before it is finalized. But if this rule takes effect, it will most likely harm the health of millions of people and undo decades of work by providers nationwide to increase access to medical care for immigrants and their families.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Numerous studies have shown that immigrants pay more into our health care financing systems, both public and private, than they take out in health care services. We should be welcoming their contributions to our health care. Yet the Trump administration is intending to put into place an expansion of the “public charge” rule that will have an enormous negative impact on lawfully present immigrants.
The last paragraph of the NEJM article bears repeating:
“We believe that the draft public-charge regulation represents a substantial threat to lawfully present immigrants’ access to public programs and health care services. What modifications may be made is uncertain — after the rule is formally proposed, there will be a public comment period, and revisions could be made before it is finalized. But if this rule takes effect, it will most likely harm the health of millions of people and undo decades of work by providers nationwide to increase access to medical care for immigrants and their families.”
Is this what kind of a nation we are becoming? Are the large, often unruly crowds at President Trump’s political rallies in charge of presenting our values to the world forum?
Have we no citizen responsibility here? If so, what is it? Yes, we need to vote, but look at who is being elected. Will we have an epiphany by November and change our elected representatives, or will it be more of the same?
And the most perplexing question of all: How did we end up with so many individuals in our nation who demonstrate repeatedly man’s inhumanity to man?
Two contrasting stanzas, excerpted from:
Man was made to mourn: A Dirge
Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
Yet, let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast:
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!
– Robert Burns, 1784
There is hope.
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