Illegal Immigrants Account for $10.7 Billion of Nation’s Health Care Costs, Data Show

Matt Cover | July 29, 2009 | 5:57pm EDT
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

( – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that “illegal immigrants are not covered” in the health care reform legislation that is now working its way through House committees. But when asked about illegal immigrants who go to public hospitals for care, Pelosi told CNN’s State of the Nation on Sunday the law requires that they be treated.
The cost of treating illegal aliens amounts to nearly $11 billion a year, according to calculations done by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a non-profit group that opposes illegal immigration. And that cost is not expected to go away if a health insurance reform bill becomes law.
“If you’re in this country illegally, should you be able to get health care?” CNN’s John King asked Pelosi. “No, illegal immigrants are not covered by this plan,” she replied.
“And so what happens to a public hospital then, if they walk into the emergency room? The hospital I was at this week, they said, you know, they do 6,000 births a year there and 70 percent of them are for undocumented [patients],” said King.
“I don’t know about that,” said Pelosi. “But I do know that the law requires that if somebody comes in off the street and needs care, that is extended. What we see in this legislation is that people will have access to affordable health care, and it will diminish the number of people going into those private, public hospitals in the manner in which you described.”
According to FAIR’s Director of Special Projects Jack Martin, illegal immigrants cost federal and state governments an estimated $10.7 billion a year in health care spending. The numbers are contained in a report that FAIR plans to publish in the near future.
“The numbers that I’ve been running come up to a total of $10.7 billion a year,” Martin told Those costs include the cost of so-called “anchor babies” – babies born to illegal immigrant parents in U.S. hospitals, almost always at taxpayers’ expense.
Martin said that he included this cost in his estimate because while the newborns are technically U.S. citizens, taxpayers would never have had to pay their mothers’ medical bills had they not illegally entered the country.
“If the illegal immigrants were prevented from coming into the country or were encouraged to leave the country, that cost would disappear,” said Martin. “Emergency medical care for the delivery of children is the biggest [cost].”
Each anchor baby costs taxpayers an estimated $10,000 each on average, Martin said. These costs are usually paid through Medicaid, the federal program designed to aid America’s poor.
“It’s the same [cost] as any other Medicaid birth, it’s the delivery expenses that average in the neighborhood of about $10,000 per delivery,” he said.
Emergency room care for adults is another “significant” part of illegals’ overall burden, Martin said, one that is primarily borne by states, which subsidize the hospitals whose emergency rooms must treat illegal immigrants, no matter how minor their illness might be.
“It’s a fairly significant contribution,” Martin said, “it comes out of the pocket of the states for the most part because of the fact that it is not covered by Medicaid. The federal government has had a program of partial reimbursement of those expenses but that hasn’t been renewed [by this Congress]. It didn’t begin to cover those expenses [anyway].”
That $10.7 billion is not spread evenly throughout the country, Martin explained, but is borne primarily by states with high populations of illegal aliens -- states such as California, Texas, and Florida.
“In terms of locations, it basically flows with where the largest concentration of illegal immigrants are,” said Martin. “For example, California is the largest and just within the state – not including federal monies – I get that [cost] at $1.6 billion per year.”
In fact, state governments bear the heaviest burden for subsidizing the health care of illegal immigrants. Martin said he calculated that, all told, states pay $6.9 billion per year to care for their illegal immigrant populations.
“The estimates of the costs that are paid by the states in total run to about $6.9 billion,” he said. “The difference between that and the over $10 billion figure is the amount that is paid out of federal funds.”
Martin’s figures are similar to those reported in a 2004 study published by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which showed that illegals accounted for $6.4 billion of federal health care spending – the CIS study did not examine states expenditures.
The CIS study did include federal programs for which illegal immigrants are legally barred, such as Medicaid. However, federal funds still flowed their way due to the fact that illegal immigrant parents gain access to federal welfare and health care benefits through their U.S.-born children.
According to the CIS study, illegals accounted for 13.1 percent of all federal costs of covering the uninsured in 2004, an estimated $2.2 billion per year. Seventeen percent of households headed by an illegal immigrant were using Medicaid, accounting for 1.7 percent of all Medicaid recipients.
These trends look to continue if President Obama gets his way on health care reform, Martin said, because the legislation currently making its way through Congress would leave “very large” loopholes, loopholes that are not likely to be closed.
“The current health care bill is looking as if it is leaving a very large loophole for medical coverage being provided to illegal aliens,” Martin said.
“There’s one provision that says they won’t be eligible, but the current legislation as it’s being written does not establish any system of verification as to whether or not a person is legal or illegal.”
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