Challenges Surround The Calculation Of Costs Associated With Illegal Immigrant Care

PhillyBurbs.com examines the cost of caring for undocumented immigrants and whether it really is cheaper to exclude them under a health care overhaul. Despite widespread support for requiring people to prove their citizenship to receive government health benefits, PhillyBurbs.com reports: "Public health and immigration experts worry excluding undocumented immigrants would put everyone at risk, hamper attempts to prevent the spread of disease and lead to an increase in health care spending."

The extent of the burden illegal immigrants cast on the U.S. health care system "is unclear since accurate statistics are unavailable and hospitals and clinics don't ask patients about their legal status. New 2008 Census data estimates 9.5 million uninsured people were 'not a citizen,' but the number includes legal immigrant workers, visitors and foreign students. A 2006 RAND study estimated about $1.1 billion in federal, state and local government funds are spent yearly on health services for undocumented adult immigrants under age 65. That is compared with $88 billion in government spending on health care for all nonelderly adults." And estimates from the Center for Immigration Studies place the cost of treating uninsured illegal immigrants at about $4.3 billion a year, "primarily at emergency rooms and free clinics. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes illegal immigration, says its research suggests the cost is closer to $11 billion a year, mostly for childbirth and pregnancy-related complications involving so called 'anchor babies,' the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants" (Ciavaglia, 10/5).

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