Survey: Undocumented Immigrants Could Benefit From Health Care Reform

Nicole C. Brambila, The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California), September 9, 2009

A study released Tuesday says that without enforcement, undocumented immigrants could get health care coverage through the president’s proposed plan, costing Americans more than $30 billion annually.

But that’s if all undocumented immigrants seek care–something another immigration expert and the study say is unlikely.

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Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for benefits under the proposed America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, or HR 3200, about which President Barack Obama plans to address Congress at 5 p.m. today.

However, the study by the Center for Immigration Studies says the bill’s lack of an enforcement provision opens the door to the undocumented taking advantage of the program.

“If you have a bar on illegal immigrants getting the affordable credit and it’s unenforced, it’s kind of like a speed limit on a highway that police say they’re never going to enforce,” said Steven Camarota, director of research.

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Rasmussen Reports this week found that more than 80 percent of voters say government health care benefits should be restricted to U.S. citizens only.

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Money matters

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In 2006, a Desert Sun analysis found undocumented immigrants pump nearly $1.5 billion annually into the Riverside County economy while costing residents roughly $220 million for the social services they use.

Roughly 6.6 million uninsured, undocumented immigrants–or slightly more than half of the nation’s undocumented population–could receive benefits under the proposed health care plan, the study says.

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The majority of undocumented immigrants are uninsured–some studies say 60 percent, others put the figure as high as 68 percent.

But they’re also young and very healthy, and a scenario in which all the undocumented seek health insurance coverage is unlikely, according to experts such as the Pew Hispanic Center and the RAND Corp.

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A 2005 RAND study co-authored by Smith found that nationally the medical cost for the undocumented was $5.2 billion annually, or less than 2 percent of the total national cost.

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[Editor’s Note: The Rasmussen results are available online and can be read here.]


A new study released today shows that, without enforcement, the undocumented could gain health care coverage through President Barack Obama’s proposed plan, costing Americans more than $30 billion annually.

Roughly 6.6 million uninsured, undocumented immigrants–or about half of the nation’s undocumented population–could, because of lack of enforcement, receive benefits under the proposed health care plan, according to a study released by the Center for Immigration Studies.

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The report did recognize that it is likely many undocumented immigrants would not enroll in the proposed plan out of fear or the lack of knowledge about the program.

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Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for benefits under the proposed America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, or HR 3200.

However, the study argues the bill’s lack of an enforcement provision opens the door to the undocumented taking advantage of the program.

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Congress voted down an amendment in July that would have required the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program be used to verify eligibility.

Among the report’s findings:

* The cost of treating uninsured, undocumented immigrants is roughly $4.3 billion annually, in emergency rooms and free clinics.

* In 2007, 38 percent of undocumented immigrants had health insurance.

Under the proposed plan, the bill establishes government subsidies to reduce the cost of purchasing insurance to the qualifying poor; expands Medicaid eligibility and imposes an income tax on high-income individuals.

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Immigration advocates said they were not surprised the undocumented were brought into the health care debate.

“There are a number of Americans that are adamantly opposed to any support,” said Juan Lujan, a Latin American expert and dean of off-campus programs for College of the Desert.

“They don’t look at the whole picture; at what they contribute, what they do, the jobs they have.

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Immigration opponents have long argued that the undocumented are a drain on public services.

In 2006, though, a Desert Sun analysis found undocumented immigrants pump nearly $1.5 billion annually into the Riverside County economy while costing residents roughly $220 million for the social services they use.

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[Editor’s Note: CIS’s study “Illegal Immigrants and HR 3200: Estimate of Potential Costs to Taxpayers,” can be read here.]

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