Study: Immigrants use healthcare services sparingly, may be subsidizing care for Americans

BOSTON — Immigrants in the United States pay more money into private and public health insurance programs than they get out of it in medical care, despite claims suggesting otherwise by President Trump and some lawmakers, according to a study by researches at Harvard University Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine.

Researchers say that because immigrants utilize healthcare systems far less frequently than non-immigrants, they may actually be subsidizing the care for natural-born American citizens.

“Our findings show that immigrants are clearly bringing down per capita health care costs and are likely subsidizing care for native-born Americans. Instead of attacking immigrants for driving up costs, we should recognize their proven economic contributions,” says senior author Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Harvard’s Center for Bioethics, in a media release.

The research team analyzed studies relating to healthcare expenditures by immigrants in the country since 2000. Compared to U.S.-born citizens, immigrants had lower rates of health care utilization and lower expenditures per capita on private and public health insurance sources. Undocumented immigrants in particular spent much less than U.S.-born citizens.

Immigrants using healthcare services as a whole was one-half to two-thirds the amount of U.S.-born individuals across all age groups. They also paid more out-of-pocket for health care than those born in the country.

The researchers found that immigrants essentially subsidized private insurance and some public insurance programs like Medicare because they’re a low-risk pool of healthcare users who pay more into the system with premiums and taxes than is paid back to them for their care.

“Immigrants have been blamed for a range of problems plaguing the U.S., including health care costs,” says study author Lila Flavin, a Tufts School of Medicine student, in a media release. “But studies demonstrate that immigrants are propping up the Medicare Trust Fund by paying much more into Medicare than they will ever receive in benefits. Recent immigrants are substantially healthier than native-born Americans, which benefits the American health care economy. But to maintain their health over the long term, new immigrants — and all Americans — need access to good health care. Denying care to immigrants is a human rights violation that cannot be justified based on costs, and indeed may raise costs in the future.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Health Services.

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