Study: Immigrants are net contributors to Medicare, have lower expenditures than US-born population

With immigration certainly a central issue in the 2018 mid-term elections, a new study could fuel debates about the dollars and cents of policy proposals. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Tufts University found that immigrants’ healthcare costs were significantly lower than those of individuals born in the United States.

The report, published Aug. 8 in the International Journal of Health Services, examined peer-reviewed studies about immigrant health expenditures in the U.S. that have been published since 2000.

“[S]lightly over half of all Americans (52%) currently believe that immigrants burden our country with excessive healthcare costs,” wrote the researchers, led by Lila Flavin, a fourth-year medical student at Tufts, and colleagues. “Two-thirds (67%) of the public believe that undocumented immigrants should not be eligible for social services provided by state and local governments.”

The team used a three-point screening process to select 16 studies from an original pool of 188. The researchers’ primary finding was that immigrants consume a disproportionately small percentage of healthcare costs. Accounting for 12 percent of the total population, those born outside the U.S. account for 8.6 percent of all healthcare expenditures.

Other notable findings included:

  • Undocumented immigrants are roughly 5 percent of the population, while only accounting for 1.4 percent of total U.S. expenditures.
  • Among immigrants with insurance, healthcare costs were 52 percent lower than American-born individuals.
  • Disparities in expenditures diminished among Latino immigrants who had been citizens for 10 years compared to white U.S. citizens.
  • Between 2000 and 2009, noncitizens spent an average of $500 on healthcare, while citizens spent roughly $2,500.

“Our review of the literature overwhelmingly showed that immigrants spend less on healthcare, including publicly funded health care, compared to their U.S.-born counterparts,” the authors wrote. “Moreover, immigrants contributed more towards Medicare than they withdrew; they are net contributors to Medicare’s trust fund.”

The study comes one day after the Trump administration is reportedly considering proposals to make it more difficult for legal immigrants to gain citizenship if they ever received insurance through the Affordable Care Act or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.