Health Team

Study Looks at Medicaid Impact of Immigrant Emergency Care

Posted March 13, 2007

— Whether immigrants are in this country legally or not, they are ineligible for Medicaid in North Carolina if they have been in the United States for fewer than five years.

They can get some coverage for health emergencies, however.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at how much Medicaid money is spent that way, and the Journal of the American Medical Association has published their findings.

UNC researcher and family physician Annette Dubard treats a lot of Latino immigrants. She studied state Medicaid spending on emergency care for immigrants.

The study tallied state emergency Medicaid spending from 2001 to 2004 and found it increased from $41 million to $53 million. The program served 48,000 immigrants.

Dr. Dubard said some people might think it's a lot of money, but she added, “It's important to keep in perspective that this accounted for less than 1 percent of total Medicaid spending in North Carolina.”

“Nine out of 10 were pregnant women receiving care for labor and delivery or for emergency complications of their pregnancies,” Dubard said.

The immigrant women in the study had no coverage for prenatal care except in emergency rooms. Spending for elderly and disabled immigrants increased at a faster rate, however. If they weren't immigrants, they might be able to get coverage through Medicare instead of using Medicaid dollars.

“We are spending at the wrong end of care, and we could stretch the health-care dollar further by emphasizing preventive care,” Dubard said.

Mariela Hernandez, one of Dubard’s patients, came from Mexico as a child. She said she has many friends who struggle to get health care.

“The way to help would be to have the insurance not to be so expensive,” Hernandez said. That would help more immigrants access and help pay for health care, she added.

Some states do offer health coverage for legal immigrants within their first five -years in this country or for pregnant women and children who are undocumented immigrants.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • scpt071 Mar 20, 2007

    It takes not months, but years for someone to become legal in the US. After paying all the fees that come with each form, the process becomes very costly, and then you are placed in a waiting list that can take years. When you don't have any kind of government benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, wic, Medicare, and disability (because they don't exist).
    There are children starving and dying from infections that a simple bottle of antibiotics can cure in a week's time, but their families don't have the financial stability to afford it. Children that at 10 years of age, not fortunate to be able to go to school and get an education, because they are out on the streets selling food or anything they can in order to help their family out. Did you know? That 70% of all illegal immigrants pay taxes by obtaining a ITIN number (Identification Taxpayer Id Number) through the IRS. So, what would you do if you lived in those conditions, your children were starving?

  • jmr Mar 20, 2007

    nursevb8...I'm not sure about where you're getting your information from. I know that there are a plenty that do pay their taxes, have families, and have $14,000 vehicles (financed). Looks like to me, that they are helping the economy, not hurting it.

  • nursevb8 Mar 19, 2007

    scpt071--I think maybe it's you that needs to WALK around a construction site that has mixed employees and actually talk to some. You'll definately hear a different story. Myb BF works construction, I've heard it. It's there. I want to know how a hispanic with 3 kids and a wife can pay $14,000 CASH for a vehicle. Could you? I surely couldn't and I work full time and pay taxes. OH, that's why.......

  • nursevb8 Mar 19, 2007

    pn1959, you are not entirely right. Not all of them will work, just like the everyday American, except they expect whether they work or not. Americans that don't work are because they are tired of watching the fat man sit back and make all the $$ while they do the work. That will never change. We need to go back many years when you worked an honest days work.

  • lucky22 Mar 19, 2007

    I have a sister that has not had any insurance for years and is suffering with hepatitis C and is disabled and had to quit work about 7 years ago. There are times that she lays in bed and suffers for weeks on end because she has no insurance and our goventment is worried about immigrants getting insurance. There is something wrong with this picture. Everyone should be able to afford health care. There is a big problem in this country. All is not fair. I'm am going to lose my sister one day because she cannot get the treatment she needs.

  • dawn Mar 18, 2007

    ALSO WHY IS HEALTH CARE INSURANCE SO EXPENSIVE AND OUT OF REACH OF MOST PEOPLE!!! in England we have the NHS system which everybody working pays into... and then health care is free.. but the waiting lists are so long... could take 2 years or more to get an operation .... sometimes people die whilst waiting on the list... so NHS has its drawbacks too.. i just think that somewhere along the lines here there should be a 'middle' area for everyone to afford... at the moment we may $400 per month health insurance which is supposed to be 'cheaper' than most as its connected with my husbands employment.. if he didnt have this at work.. we would not be able to afford health care... just think health care should be affordable TO EVERYONE.... thanks for taking time to read my comments.. im not complaining about America ITS A GREAT COUNTRY.. JUST NEEDS TO LOOK AT THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM.... other than that, im glad to be here legally!! and thank you America you are great!!

  • dawn Mar 18, 2007

    I am an alien... i am legal... from England.. i get nothing from here... i had to sign a declaration saying i would not ask the state for assistance of any kind... the insurance cripples us.. $400 a month and thats supposed to be a reduced payment as its with a company my husband works for...I showed my 'Green Card' to the doctors office the other day and the receptionist told me its the first one she has ever seen!!!! I am here in this country legally!! paid over $3,000 to be here legally... so i do feel annoyed at the others who are here illegally... being able to get medicare..... and having ficticious social security numbers.... WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME... SOME OF US ARE HERE LEGALLY AND PAID FOR THE PRIVILAGE!!

  • SaveEnergyMan Mar 18, 2007

    The issue of illegals here is a supply/demand issue. We demand cheap labor to build our houses, cook our food, and do all of the things we really don't want to do. They are willing to work for next to nothing. Seems great?

    There is always the flip side - the unintended consequence. Illegals are more expensive to educate (Eng as 2ng language), to keep healthy (emergency rooms are costly), and crime is a problem (particularly DWI). So, that is the price we pay for cheap labor.

    Why are we unwilling to do the jobs? They don't pay enough and supply/demand with this steady supply of workers is keeping the jobs underpaid. Americans used to do all of these jobs for living wages. We can't do that anymore because of our short sighted notion of cheaper today is better in the future and the fact we want it now (instant gratification). Businesses don't want to change because a rise in wages to hire legals means things cost more.

  • pn1959 Mar 17, 2007

    Everyone give the Hispanics a break: AT LEAST THEY WILL WORK!!!! I'm much more comfortable with assisting them than I am subsidizing those in this state who are able to work but WONT WORK thanks to our system that is failing miserbly on its best day. If we want to blame someone maybe we should begin with the government who has taken away every incentive for people in this state to work by providing them every means of being cared for without having to work, courtesy of the taxpayers. Subsequently, we then sit by and watch as our elderly and poorly disabled make the monthly decision of paying the light bill or buying medicine!. How so very sad.....

  • scpt071 Mar 17, 2007

    that ARE NOT US CITIZENS and on top of that over 3,000 of our US soldiers have been killed. Let's not forget, who was here first before the europians came to this continent. This is the land of opportunity, and now that all of this immigrants from other countries are in the US, we don't have the men power to kick everyone out, on top of the fact that hispanics contribute tremendously to our economy by taking the jobs that regular americans don't want to work. Getting pay less money, then an american would for the same job and not obtaining any sick leave, holiday pay, vacation, worker's comp, and most of all no benefits for health insurance coverage for them nor their families. I have seen a father taking a pay cut in order to take a week off to be able to burry his young child after he died of cancer and he had been working for the same company for six years, take a ride around the construction sites and you will see the reality of who really is doing all the hard work. I think that t