NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 14, 2007

Paying for basic checkups and pregnancy care for illegal immigrants would save money in the long run, possibly averting expensive emergency treatment, say researchers who studied immigrants in North Carolina.

Federal law generally excludes illegal immigrants and legal immigrants who have been in the United States less than five years from Medicaid, a joint state-federal program that provides health care coverage to the poor and disabled.  But the law also allows Medicaid to pay for emergency medical care needed by some immigrants, including those who are pregnant or disabled.

Researchers looking at so-called emergency Medicaid in North Carolina found that the overwhelming majority of such patients were female Hispanic illegal immigrants and more than 80 percent received care related to childbirth and complications of pregnancy.

Other findings:

  • A total of 48,391 individuals received services reimbursed under Emergency Medicaid during the four-year period of this study.
  • The patient population was 99 percent undocumented, 93 percent Hispanic, 95 percent female and 89 percent in the 18- to 40-year age group.
  • Total spending increased by 28 percent from 2001 through 2004, with more rapid spending increases among elderly (98 percent) and disabled (82 percent) patients.
  • In 2004, childbirth and complications of pregnancy accounted for 82 percent of spending and 91 percent of hospitalizations.
  • Injury, renal failure, gastrointestinal disease and cardiovascular conditions were also prevalent.

Offering preventative care makes sense if illegal immigrants are going to be allowed to remain in the United States, says Steven Camarota, director of research at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which supports enforcement of the nation's existing immigration laws.

"The question is should we let them stay," he said.  "Either you enforce the law and cause the illegals to go home or you stop complaining about the cost."

Source: C. Annette DuBard and Mark W. Massing, "Trends in Emergency Medicaid Expenditures for Recent and Undocumented Immigrants," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 297, No. 10, March 14, 2007; and "Childbirth Is Top Health Cost For Illegal Immigrants," Associated Press/Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2007.

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