Accuracy in Media

While immigrants comprise 12.5 percent of the nation’s total population, they are 27.1 percent of the uninsured, an immigration study group found. In turn, “64 percent of illegal immigrants are uninsured,” according to Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Camarota, Director of Research for CIS, said at the National Press Club on August 19 that “it is very difficult to imagine getting our health-care house in order without getting our immigration house in order…” Camarota added that understanding the issue of immigration is central to understanding the health care debate because “immigration is a very large part of that story.”

Camarota’s new report concerns the impact of immigration on the health insurance system in the United States. The report is based upon data collected from the March 2008 Current Population Survey collected by the United States Census Bureau. According to the report, 33 percent of immigrants, both legal and illegal, do not have health insurance, compared to the 13 percent of native born Americans who are currently uninsured.

“The large share of immigrants without health insurance is partly explained by the large share who have very low levels of education,” Camarota said.

Another reason for this, according to Camarota, is that immigrants often come from countries where health insurance is either “not common” or “provided by the government automatically.”

Camarota does not attribute the lack of health insurance among immigrants to an “unwillingness to work.” “The problems illegal immigrants create for emergency rooms is not so much that they go more often than the rest of the population; rather, it is that when they go, they are much more likely not to pay, and that’s why it’s a problem,” Camarota argued.

So what does that mean for the American taxpayer? “[When] we … calculate the cost to taxpayers of the whole thing, of what legal and illegal immigrants cost, and if we put in their U.S.-born children who are uninsured as well, and that’s about $11 billion a year from public coffers,” Camarota said.

Camarota estimates that providing Medicaid alone to all uninsured immigrants and their children would require almost $60 billion a year. He disagrees that the amnesty programs currently being promoted by the Obama administration would solve the problem, noting that “lack of health insurance is [still] very common among legal immigrants.”

James R. Edwards, Jr., a Fellow at CIS, said that government agencies and nonprofits only look at things like “income levels” and other “similar qualifiers” when deciding who should be entitled to coverage. Legal status is often overlooked, even though it “could disqualify someone from program participation.”

Edwards further argued that the current health care bill “contains a number of provisions that open the door to taxpayer funding of immigrants’ health care.” He said that the bill creates a government agency to regulate health insurance which will “run the public option” and “operate a graduated subsidy program.”

“The bill apparently qualifies all lawful permanent residents, regardless of their sponsor’s pledge[d] financial responsibility or the required 5-year bar for most means-tested programs,” he said. “Taxpayers will subsidize households earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level. So Section 242 generously subsidizes many people, including the foreign-born, well into the middle class.”

Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says that “the U.S. has a very generous system of support for less-advantaged individuals and it would be very difficult to provide that level of support to essentially an unlimited inflow of low-skill individuals from the Third World.”

Unfortunately, according to Rector, “that is what our immigration system currently does.”

Historically, the United States had a system that would check and substantiate immigration status so that immigrants residing in the United States illegally would be prevented from receiving benefits under federal assistance programs. Rector says the current health care legislation “turns that [idea] on its back and tramples it into the dust.”

He added that the legislation takes an “unprecedented” step toward providing entitlements for illegal immigrants.

“I would say if you’re going to do that with respect to health care, why would you not also establish the same precedent with respect to food stamps, to public housing, to the Earned Income Tax Credit and so forth,” Rector argued.

Rector estimates that providing insurance for all uninsured illegal immigrants would come close to $200 billion over the next decade.

“I believe that under this legislation, we will begin to draw the seriously ill from all over the world … to come here [and] receive free medical treatment. And once you hook these individuals up to the dialysis machine … we’re very unlikely, as a society, to pull the plug and say get out of here,” Rector said.

Rector says that such policies could directly impact the financial stability of the United States. “This is a massive expenditure at a time in which the United States is already going bankrupt as a nation,” he said.

Drawing upon a comparison to Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 “War On Poverty,” Rector says that Americans are being told again that they must spend money “in order to save money.”

Rector pointed out the irony of such logic.

“Boy, it’s a good thing we saved all that money,” he said.

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