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Health Care Expenditures for Immigrants


Health Care Expenditures for Immigrants Are Lower Than for Citizens

May 2009

Immigrants use less health care on average than citizens do.

In fact, the average immigrant uses less than half the dollar amount of health care services as the average native-born U.S. citizen.1

Immigrants are far less likely than citizens to be offered employer sponsored health coverage.

Nevertheless, immigrants are less likely to participate in Medicaid and other public health coverage programs than are U.S.- born citizens.2

Despite their high rate of workforce participation, immigrants are more likely to be uninsured than are citizens.

However, immigrants are not driving the nation’s uninsured problem.

  • Citizens make up 78% of the nonelderly uninsured, and the majority of growth in the number of uninsured from 2000 to 2006 occurred among citizens.3

  • The root causes of the nation’s failing health care system are lack of insurance and skyrocketing medical costs, not unauthorized immigration.4

Contrary to oft-repeated claims, immigrants are significantly less likely to use the emergency room than are citizens.

  • 20% of adult citizens report an emergency room visit in 2007, compared to 13% of immigrants.5

  • Communities with high rates of emergency room usage tend to have relatively small percentages of noncitizen residents.6

  • Metropolitan areas with high immigrant populations such as Miami and Phoenix have much lower rates of emergency room use than areas with low numbers of immigrants.

  • Undocumented immigrants have especially low medical expenses compared to citizens. Only 1.3% of all public medical expenditures in the year 2000 went towards care for undocumented immigrants.7


1  One study found that immigrants use about $1,129 per capita in health care, compared to citizens, who use about $2,546 per capita. Sarita A. Mohanty, “Unequal Access: Immigrants and U.S. Health Care” (Immigration Policy Center, July 2006).
2  “The Role of Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage for Immigrants: A Primer” (Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Unemployed, June 2006).
3  “Five Basic Facts on Immigrants and Their Health Care” (Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, March 2008).
4  “Are Immigrants Responsible for Most of the Growth of the Uninsured?” (Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, 2005).
5  Id.
6  Peter Cunningham, “What Accounts for Differences in the Use of Hospital Emergency Departments across U.S. Communities?” Health Affairs, July 18, 2006.
7  D. Goldman, J. Smith, and N. Sood, “Immigrants and the Cost of Medical Care,” Health Affairs, 2006, 25(6):1700–11.

Jonathan Blazer, Public Benefits Policy Attorney |  | 215.753.8057