Contrary to what anti-immigration folks might think, researchers at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research have confirmed that undocumented immigrants in California use health services less than U.S. citizens who don't have insurance.
That contradicts the thought that undocumented immigrants overuse emergency rooms, driving up the cost of health care.
The new study published on May 5 in the Health Affairs journal revealed that while 12 percent of uninsured citizens use the ER, only 9 percent of the undocumented population goes to the ER annually. It also showed that undocumented adults visit the doctor's office 1.7 times a year while uninsured U.S. citizens visit 1.8 times a year. What's more, they found that the average insured U.S. citizen visits the doctor 3.2 times a year; nearly double that of an undocumented patient.
Uninsured patients tend to visit the ER more often because they don't have primary care providers to assist them with minor issues, thus they wait until the medical problem becomes dire enough to seek emergency care.
Also, out of all of the uninsured adults in California, undocumented immigrants use the ER the least. Nadereh Pourat, the lead author of the study, says that's because undocumented immigrants feel less safe using services that might require them to show documents. They usually turn to the ER as a last resort.
"The undocumented who end up in the emergency room have often delayed getting any care until they are critically sick," Pourat explains.
The UCLA researchers suggested that a lack of health care for undocumented citizens means that the public will have to pay more for expensive care administered in the ER. As more than 2.2 million of California's population are undocumented, those visits to the emergency room that could have been prevented eventually adds up. Although the Affordable Care Act extended health care to 3.3 million previously uninsured Californians, it didn't include the 2.2 million undocumented in the state.
Pourat and the other study authors argue that if undocumented immigrants in California were able to purchase unsubsidized coverage, they would be able to maintain low premiums in the state.
Referencing the agricultural, service and construction work that the undocumented immigrant population contribute to maintain California's economy, Pourat says that it only makes sense for them to also "have affordable health coverage options so they can stay healthy."