What would your life be like if you were not able to get medical care?
Imagine your child was sick or your parent needed health care for a disease such as cancer. Picture that every medical facility you went to said the doctor could not see you because you are an undocumented immigrant.
Millions in America are forced to live that way. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 22 million undocumented people in the United States are uninsured.
This comes at a time when a large portion of Americans continue to advocate for Medicare for All. A 2020 Hill-HarrisX poll found that 69% of registered voters were in favor of Medicare for All. Yet an estimated 28.9 million people continue to live without any medical coverage at all.
The uninsured either don’t have access to employer-provided medical insurance or they simply just can’t afford monthly premiums because of low-wage jobs. Of the 28.9 million who are uninsured, 73.7% said they are uninsured due to the high cost of coverage.
Federal policy does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive coverage through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act of which a significant amount of the undocumented population would qualify. Over 8% of citizens are uninsured, compared to 45% of undocumented immigrants, which is roughly 4 million people.
Health care is usually given to the undocumented in an Emergency Department. The emergency room is a much more costly method of getting health care. The average cost of an emergency department visit is $1389. That is an increase over the last 10 years of 176%. In comparison, the cost of a primary care visit is $69.
Uninsured immigrants’ emergency visits and other types of charitable care come at a cost of roughly $18 billion annually.
The human cost to immigrants not having access to health care is immeasurable. The toll of living with a chronic illness, having an accident, or being a victim of violence and not being able to seek health care because you cannot pay cash for services or are scared of what happens when you are asked about your legal status is too high.
Critics say that undocumented immigrants come to the United States and get free health care and endless other freebies such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also referred to as food stamps); Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI); and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) from the government.
This is not the case. Undocumented people are not eligible for federally funded programs and do not receive assistance. Actually, statistics show that White people participate in SNAP at a larger rate, 42%. And 74.8% of Medicaid recipients are white.
The economic impact is difficult to quantify but the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy found that the undocumented workforce in Texas added almost $1.6 billion in taxes to state and local coffers.
In the United States, the undocumented population contributes approximately $11.6 billion to taxes annually.
As politically divisive as the immigration conversation continues to be even under the administration of President Joe Biden, immigration reform continues to be a bipartisan issue. It still makes sense that anyone on American soil should have access to health care and good health.
One way to do that would be for policymakers to pass legislation that would enable undocumented immigrants to have access to receive health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act. However, the last proposed changes to the ACA for 2021 are to allow the undocumented population to buy into the ACA but subsidies would not be available to them.
Every individual in America regardless of status deserves the chance to have access to good healthcare and to live the life they imagine is possible.
About the Author:
Lisa Padilla is the founder and CEO of Melba House Blessing Box and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.