- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

Illegal aliens accounted for about a third of the growth of uninsured adults from 1980 to 2000, according to a study that also suggests they use social safety-net programs, such as Medicaid, far less than critics say.

About 65 percent of illegal aliens in a Rand Corp. study had no insurance during a two-year period, while 12 percent of native-born Americans, 18 percent of naturalized citizens and 32 percent of green-card holders lacked insurance. The study also found that illegal aliens who are covered by insurance have a 50 percent chance of losing it.

James P. Smith, a senior economist at Rand and one of the report’s authors, said immigration and insurance coverage are hot social issues, but rarely are considered together.

“It’s very strange to have these two highly sensitive issues going side by side, parallel. They have to be joined,” he said.

The study looked at a survey of Spanish- and English-speaking families in Los Angeles, then extrapolated to the entire nation.

Many critics of illegal immigration say the aliens are a drain on public services. The Rand study challenges one part of that equation, finding that illegal aliens are far less likely to use social insurance programs such as Medicaid.

The study found that 8 percent of illegal aliens participated in Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, compared with 13 percent of native-born citizens and 10 percent of naturalized citizens and green-card holders. Illegal aliens rarely hold jobs that offer insurance or make enough to pay for it themselves, Mr. Smith said.

He said immigrants, illegal aliens in particular, are healthier than the general population.

“They don’t use health care as much,” he said. “The utilization of immigrants and the undocumented is quite low.”

Still, Steve Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, said one of the biggest costs associated with illegal aliens is care for their U.S. citizen children.

He said the findings that illegal aliens are healthier and use fewer medical services make the immigration debate more complicated.

“If someone legalized them and they began to use Medicaid at the same rate as legal immigrants with the same level of education, then their use of Medi-Cal, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program would explode, because legal unskilled immigrants access all those programs at an extremely high rate,” he said.

The study also found that although citizens and permanent legal immigrants without insurance tend to go through periods where they have coverage, for illegal aliens “uninsurance tends to be chronic.”

“Even for undocumented immigrants with health insurance at a point in time, the odds that they will maintain it are little more than 50-50,” the authors wrote.

Joshua Bernstein, federal policy director at the National Immigration Law Center, said the way to improve insurance rates is to improve access to health care.

“The reason that the foreign-born don’t have a lot of insurance is they tend to be segregated in jobs that don’t provide insurance.”

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