- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nearly half the growth of Medicaid enrollment from 2011 to 2013 was due to immigration, according to a new study being released Thursday that argues the generous U.S. immigration system is straining the federal safety net.

Immigrants and their children made up 42 percent of Medicaid enrollment growth during that period, even though they were only 23 percent of the overall population growth in the U.S., the Center for Immigration Studies said in the report.

“A very large faction of immigrants — legal immigrants — come to the United States, are unable to support themselves and their children, and so taxpayers step in to provide a host of social services including Medicaid,” said Steven A. Camarota, research director at the center and one of the authors of the report.

The report covers all foreign-born people who use Medicaid, as detailed by the latest Census Bureau statistics. Almost all of those are likely to be legal immigrants or the native-born children of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants themselves are barred from accessing most federal benefit programs.

Medicaid is the federal-state partnership that provides health care for the poor, and is one of the fastest-growing items in the federal budget.

The spike in enrollment from 2011 to 2013 included immigrants and the native-born, and may have been due in part to Obamacare. Even though the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges and expanded Medicaid weren’t yet operational, many of those without insurance discovered they were already eligible for Medicaid under the previous requirements.

That’s meant a big increase in the number of immigrants who say they are covered by insurance, which was one of the key goals of Obamacare.

Still, there are costs associated with it. Mr. Camarota’s research said the increase in Medicaid enrollment due to immigrants amounted to $4.6 billion in additional spending in 2011.

He said those costs should be considered as a part of the immigration debate, counterbalancing those who say increasing immigration can help pay for Social Security and other safety net programs for the next few decades.

Indeed, the Social Security Administration has predicted that increasing immigration the way the 2013 Senate bill would have done it would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the program’s revenue stream over the next few decades.

But at the same time, legalizing illegal immigrants could be a slight drain. Right now many illegal immigrants use stolen or bogus Social Security numbers to get jobs and pay taxes — money they don’t have a hope of collecting. If they were legalized it would sap more than $10 billion a year in unclaimed Social Security income, the program’s actuaries have said.

Immigrants’ use rates of welfare programs have also been hotly debated.

Mr. Camarota’s numbers on Medicaid found that 25 percent of immigrants and their U.S.-born children were on Medicaid in 2013, compared to 16 percent of U.S.-born adults and their children.

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