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Immigrants use less health care than native-born Americans

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As Congress spars over what types of health care coverage to extend to illegal immigrants, a new report Thursday says immigrants overall are less likely than native-born Americans to go to the doctor or show up in the emergency room.

The Migration Policy Institute said 8 percent of low-income immigrants visited a doctor’s office in 2010, compared to 13 percent of native-born Americans.

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“Our analysis shows that immigrants — even those who have insurance — use emergency rooms more sparingly than the native born,” said Leighton Ku, one of the MPI report’s co-authors.

One major question in the current immigration debate is over what kind of health care to provide or require from illegal immigrants who would get legal status under the bill.

As written, the Senate version would not give illegal immigrants access to coverage under the new health law, but it also wouldn’t require them to purchase insurance under the individual mandate that applies to most Americans. If they seek care at an emergency room, they cannot be turned away.

Some in the GOP wanted to make newly legal immigrants have to have insurance so that they didn’t become a burden to taxpayers, but Democrats balked, saying they didn’t want to punish someone who ends up in an accident or with a catastrophic illness.

The MPI study found that some illegal immigrants do shy away from taking advantage of care, which would suggest that legalizing them will add to public costs. But MPI said even legal immigrants are reluctant health care users.

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