NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 22, 2008

As the debate over the residency status of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants boils, another battle is simmering over what -- if any -- benefits they deserve while they're here, says USA Today.

Some of the most heated arguments on the issue focus on health care, where one thing is clear -- undocumented immigrants are driving up the number of people without health insurance:

  • The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 59 percent of the nation's illegal immigrants are uninsured, compared with 25 percent of legal immigrants and 14 percent of U.S. citizens.
  • Illegal immigrants represent about 15 percent of the nation's 47 million uninsured people -- and about 30 percent of the increase since 1980.

Opponents of illegal immigration see health care as a benefit that illegal immigrants don't deserve -- and that taxpayers can't afford.  Consider:

  • Illegal immigrants make up less than 5 percent of the cost in most states, but closer to 10 percent in some California counties.
  • In 2000, counties along the Mexican border lost more than $800 million in health care services for which they were not paid; about 25 percent of that went to care for illegal immigrants.
  • From 2001 to 2004, spending for emergency Medicaid for illegal immigrants rose by 28 percent in North Carolina
  • Some states, including New York, Illinois and Washington, as well as several California counties, cover illegal immigrant children with state tax dollars.

For hospitals, "the burden of the uninsured immigrant is huge," says Jeff Spade, vice president of the North Carolina Hospital Association.  "It's exploded the amount of work that they have to do."

Source: Richard Wolf, "Rising health care costs put focus on illegal immigrants," USA Today, January 22, 2008.

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