The Truth about Immigrants and Health-Care Reform

By Allison Johnson 8-17-2009

As town hall meetings continue to dominate the national news, I am increasingly frustrated when I hear how "illegal aliens" are draining our health-care resources. I was encouraged to read a "reality check" from the Immigration Policy Center about the reality of immigrants and our current health system. The IPC states:

Some are scapegoating immigrants as a way to thwart progress on the issue [health-care reform] and are arguing that even legal immigrants be restricted from our health system. Linking these two issues does nothing to advance necessary reforms to either health care or immigration. The U.S. can do both, but public debate and discussion must be based on facts, not myths and misinformation.

The IPC recently unveiled the truth about immigrants and health-care reform with the facts and evidence below:

1) The U.S. is not spending "too much" on health care for immigrants. A July 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health found that insured immigrants had much lower medical expenses than insured U.S.-born citizens. Insured immigrants' per-person medical expenditures were 1/2 to 2/3 less than the U.S.-born with similar characteristics.

2) The vast majority of people in America who don't have health insurance are U.S. citizens. Four out of five people in America who have no insurance are U.S. citizens.

3) Contrary to popular belief, noncitizens are significantly less likely to use emergency room services than U.S. citizens. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Commission, noncitizens have poorer access to care and receive less primary health care than citizens, but they are less likely than citizens to use the emergency room. Cities with large immigrant populations such as Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Phoenix, Arizona, have much lower rates of emergency room use than areas with small immigrant populations such as Cleveland.

Now that you have the facts, I encourage you to share them with others when you hear information about immigrants being distorted in discussions on health care. You can learn more about immigrant equity in health-care reform here.

Allison JohnsonAllison Johnson is the campaign coordinator of Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Her commentary "Shackling the Stranger" appeared in the April issue of Sojourners.

To learn more about immigration reform, visit

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