June 9, 2000

Immigrants Boost Economy's Health But Lack Access to Health Care

Half of Non-Citizens Working Full-time Lack Health Insurance

New York City — While immigrants are credited with helping to fuel the nation's long economic expansion, they aren't sharing in all the benefits, particularly health benefits.

Among full-time workers who are non-citizens, fully half (51%) lack health insurance, according to a study in today's American Journal of Public health. Over 1/3 (34.3%) of the 26.2 million immigrants (citizens and non-citizens) residing in the U.S. are uninsured —9 million people— including one million children, compared with 14.2% of U.S. born residents who are uninsured.

"The crisis in the U.S. health system —with 44.3 million people uninsured— is affecting everyone. However, that 10% of our population that is foreign-born has been particularly hard hit" says study co-author Dr. Olveen Carasquillo, an internist at Columbia University.

"Almost half (43%) of all immigrants who are not citizens are uninsured," noted Caras-quillo. "They are much less likely to receive health benefits at work and are also less likely to receive safety-net government-sponsored insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program."

Major findings of the study include:

Immigrants have low-rates of employer-sponsored health coverage. Half (51%) of all non-citizens immigrants who work full-time (6.7 million people) are uninsured.

Immigrants make up a small percentage (less than 5%) of people with government-sponsored health insurance.

43.3% of non-citizen immigrant children are uninsured — one million children. In addition, under current federal laws if these children entered the country after 1996 they are not eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Country of origin makes a big difference. Immigrants are more like to be insured if they are from countries like Russia or Cuba (hence eligible for citizenship) or Europe or Canada. Immigrants from Central America, Haiti, Vietnam, and Korea are most likely to lack coverage. In fact, over 50% of all immigrants from Mexico and Central America did not have health insurance.

"Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Immigrants who are not citizens (62.9% of all immigrants) and their children are more likely to be uninsured. 43.6% of non-citizen immigrants are uninsured, compared with 18.5% of immigrants who have become US citizens. (The study used date from the 1998 Current Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau. The CPS does not ask respondents if they are legal immigrants).

"The billions of dollars that the federal government is spending to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health care will only succeed when every person in this country, including all immigrants, has equal access to our health care system," said Dr. Elena Rios, President of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

"Expecting people to work productively when they have no access to care for themselves or their children is not just inhumane, it's bad economics," said Dr. Quentin Young, National Coordinator of PNHP. "We need a not-for-profit, national health system that covers all residents, regardless of age, immigration status, employment, race, and ethnicity.

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