Immigrants in the United States Illegally Use Health Services Less Than Uninsured US Citizens

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Filipino Immigrant Receives Dialysis Treatment in ER
A Filipino immigrant in the country illegally receives dialysis treatment in the ER.
Source: Caroline May, “Report: $2 Billion Spent Annually for Medicaid Emergencies, Largely for Illegal Immigrant Baby Deliveries,”, Feb. 15, 2013
A new study of health care benefits in California, published in Health Affairs on May 5, showed that per year 9% of undocumented immigrants in California visited the emergency room versus 12% of uninsured US citizens in California versus 20% of all US-born citizens in California. Immigrants in the country illegally visit a doctor an average of 1.7 times a year, uninsured citizens visit 1.8 times, and insured citizens visit 3.2 times a year.

California is home to over 2.2 million undocumented immigrants, who account for 6.8% of the state’s population and nearly 25% of the state’s uninsured population. The 2010 Affordable Care Act gave the 3.3 million US citizens in California access to healthcare but did not extend those benefits to immigrants in the country illegally.

The study’s authors concluded that this lack of insurance coverage could lead to more advanced disease and, thus, higher public expenditures to treat immigrants in the country illegally who have not used health care services. They also say extending health care coverage to immigrants in the country illegally could benefit the insurance exchange, and reduce the burden on emergency and safety-net providers like emergency rooms and urgent care offices. California State Senator Ricardo Lara has proposed the Health for All Act, which would extend fully-paid Medicaid coverage to immigrants in the country illegally, stating, “This is an issue that has been a concern at many clinics and non-profit hospitals… If we’re going to fully implement the ACA, the conversation has to include this vulnerable population.”

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) contends that extending healthcare coverage to immigrants in the country illegally will reduce the quality of healthcare for citizens, hurt taxpayers, reward lawbreakers, and encourage illegal immigration. Their campaign against the Health for All Act states, “In 2010, FAIR estimated the annual fiscal burden on California taxpayers from illegal immigration to be $21.7 billion per year. S.B. 1005 [the Health for All Act] will only add to that burden by costing taxpayers multiplied millions per year to provide health care subsidies and free health care to citizens of other countries.”


FAIR, “CA Tell Your Senator No Taxpayer-Funded Free Healthcare for Illegal Aliens,”, Apr. 25, 2014

Melissa Hellman, “UCLA Researchers Say Undocumented Immigrants Rely on Health Services Less Than Uninsured Americans,”, May 9, 2014

Venetia Lai and Gwen Driscoll, “State’s Undocumented Immigrants Use Fewer Health Services Than U.S.-Born Residents,”, May 5, 2014

Kate Pickert, “Undocumented Immigrants Could Get Health Insurance in California,”, Feb. 18, 2014

Naderah Pourat, Steven P. Wallace, Max W. Hadler, and Ninez Ponce, “Assessing Health Care Services Used by California’s Undocumented Immigrant Population in 2010,”, May 5, 2014