Impact of Illegal Immigration on Healthcare

by Guest Writer

Illegal immigration is a hot button issue in the United States right now. A major reason is the poor economic conditions we are currently suffering. Often times, a bad economy has many people turning to illegal immigration as the problem. While this is certainly an issue, there is much to keep in mind. To be clear, I know many people who have a misconception about illegal immigration—that it is what this country is built upon. However, while the United States is a nation made up of immigrants, it is based upon LEGAL immigration. I think some people hold this position as a matter of trying to be politically correct. However, I believe it’s politically correct to expect people to follow the laws. Many people come to this country every year, legally. The people who come here illegally are breaking the law first in how they enter the country. They are endangering out citizens by not following certain precautions, whether they want to believe that or not.

When discussing immigration, the topic usually goes to the economic impact of illegal immigration. For example, jobs that are filled by illegal immigrants because, as undocumented employees they are far-cheaper to hire than a documented counterpart—think no minimum wage requirements, no payroll taxes, no insurance (health or otherwise). What we don’t always think about is the public health impact. When I refer to the public health impact, I’m not referring to the economic cost of covering these (uninsured) people, although that is certainly an issue. I’m more referring to the sicknesses they may carry and therefore pass on to an American population.

Illnesses that have been eliminated in the United States may still exist in other parts of the world—especially in third world countries. For example, according to The History of Vaccines, Polio was eliminated in the US in 1979 and Smallpox last occurred in 1977. Some other infectious diseases that were all but eradicated in the US are now making a comeback, diseases like pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis, measles and mumps. If these are in fact infectious diseases that have been eliminated from our nation’s population, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we should not require vaccines for them? Of course, if people are entering this country illegally—essentially without the healthcare checks necessary to make sure they are not bringing in communicable diseases, wouldn’t it make sense that they are in part responsible for the “need” to over-vaccinate our children?

While I said my focus would not be economic, I would be remiss if I did not include the medical costs associated with illegal immigration in the Unites States. First of all, as illegal immigrants, they are not supposed to be able to receive Medicaid or any other type of insurance. I cannot find compelling data to make me believe that this is a hard and fast rule. Generally speaking though, the economic impact on healthcare is felt more in the hospital setting—most specifically the emergency room. Since emergency rooms must treat patients (regardless of whether they can pay), often times hospitals lose out on a lot of money that they then do not have to pay their employees and cover overhead. The Annals of Emergency Medicine reported that “In some hospitals, as much as two-thirds of total operating costs are for uncompensated care for illegal aliens. As a result, hundreds of emergency departments have closed. In Los Angeles, for example, 10 hospitals have closed in the past five years because of uncompensated care.” That’s fewer places that any of us have to turn to for care. Please take note that I am not saying people should be denied access to healthcare. I am saying they should be denied illegal access to any country. By enforcing that, then the impact on hospitals and public health can be lessened.

So, what is the solution? I wish I knew. However, illegal immigration is a huge issue, with several pawns coming into play. As long as there are employers willing to hire undocumented workers, there will be a draw for them. And, as long as we are a nation that extends (free) healthcare and other benefits to undocumented residents, we will continue to have a problem. There is so much reform that is needed, that it’s hard to know where the appropriate place to begin is. First and foremost, I think the United States needs to be made “less attractive” to those who come here illegally. Stiffer penalties for those who come here illegally and for employers who hire illegal immigrants are a couple of places to start. Perhaps not allowing illegal immigrants access to social security benefits or any other taxpayer funded services would be a step in the right direction. This issue is something we cannot afford to pass on to our children—medically or economically.

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