What Illegal Immigrants Cost Our Health Care System

The numbers are in the billions and growing all the time — and we're paying the price

by Rob Tenery | Updated 04 Nov 2016 at 8:12 AM

The number of people living illegally in the U.S. is said to be well over 11 million, although some estimates are as high as 30 million. With the recent deluge across our southern border, the numbers are rising daily. People skirt the system once they’re here, blending into communities unnoticed much of the time.

These are the “squatters” of American society. They enjoy the privileges — and many of the benefits — earned by those who reside here legally: protection from harm, emergency medical care, public education, and automatic citizenship for children if they are born in the United States. The cost to the American taxpayers of 11 million illegal aliens is estimated at $346 billion annually, according to the National Research Council.

In 2013, the Center for Immigration Studies estimated the medical costs for uninsured individuals at $4.3 billion per year, primarily due to the use of emergency rooms and free clinics.

Medical costs specifically for uninsured individuals are estimated at $4.3 billion per year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, primarily due to the use of emergency rooms and free clinics. This doesn’t include the billions of dollars more that are being adsorbed by hospitals for inpatient care.

Why is this happening? This country’s beneficence is unmatched. In 1986, when Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA), it ensured public access to all comers for emergency services regardless of an ability to pay.

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Under the same EMTALA guidelines, once patients are accepted by a hospital to which they present or are taken to, that institution is responsible for their care or transfer to an institution that can provide the needed services. Any uncollected costs are absorbed by the medical facility.

Related: A Physician’s Plea: Fix Our Health Care System

City and county hospitals can rely on taxes to recoup costs — private institutions must accept most of the losses.

In my home state alone, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, in a 2010 report, showed an estimated $717 million in uncompensated medical care incurred by undocumented immigrants in the state’s public hospital districts that included 99 facilities.

That same report, "Services and Benefits Provided to Undocumented Immigrants," showed expenditures for prenatal care for the unborn children of low-income women who were undocumented immigrants in Texas at $118 million.

Illegal immigrants, who have not paid anything into the Medicaid program at all, are reportedly receiving about $2 billion annually in benefits under the Emergency Medicaid program, as part of a state-federal health insurance program for the poor.

Elected officials might just be pitting the future of our own children against the "squatters" that have taken up residence in our country illegally.

It is obvious why mothers come to birth their babies in the U.S. This is the land of opportunity compared to their native countries. The standard of health care is second to none. With the multiple entitlement programs from birth through K-12, their children have opportunities that never would have been available to them if their mother had not immigrated here. And under the 14th Amendment, children born in this country to undocumented parents are automatically granted citizenship. The numerous entitlement programs for which these infants are eligible are said to generate costs to the United States at a current rate of $58 billion a year.

This unchecked migration, coupled with automatic birthright citizenship, is taking a toll on this country's resources.

Our leadership in Washington has reached a stalemate over the illegal immigration issue — not necessarily over what is right vs. wrong, but what is in their particular political party's best interest. These elected officials might just be pitting the future of our own children against the "squatters" who have taken up residence in our country illegally — as the current system is financially, and in many other ways, unsustainable.

Sounds cruel, but that's the reality.

Rob Tenery, M.D., is a Dallas-based ophthalmologist and writer, and the third in three generations of physicians.

  1. Affordable Care Act
  2. health care
  3. illegal immigrants
  4. immigration
  5. Immigration Reform and Control Act
  6. IRCA
  7. Medicaid
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