Immigrants put more into Medicare than they get out of it

As the immigration debate wages on, there may be another reason to take a hard look at the often-debated policy--immigrant workers are bolstering Medicare's finances by contributing billions more than immigrant retirees actually use in medical services, researchers found in Health Affairs.

"Immigrants, particularly noncitizens, heavily subsidize Medicare," the researchers wrote. "Policies that reduce immigration would almost certainly weaken Medicare's financial health, while an increasing flow of immigrants might bolster its sustainability."

The Health Affair's study scrutinized the impact of 29 million immigrants, counted in the Census, on the Trust Fund, which supports hospital payments under Medicare Part A. The survey included now-U.S. citizens, but likely didn't include many illegal immigrants who avoided the study, as authors noted.

"In 2009, immigrants made 14.7 percent of Trust Fund contributions but accounted for only 7.9 percent of its expenditures--a net surplus of $13.8 billion," the study found. "In contrast, US-born people generated a $30.9 billion deficit. Immigrants generated surpluses of $11.1--$17.2 billion per year between 2002 and 2009, resulting in a cumulative surplus of $115.2 billion."

The study noted that the Medicare surplus from immigrants is due to the fact that so many non-citizens are working-age adults.Researches suggest that restrictive immigration policies would exhaust Medicare's financial resources. Immigrants contribute to Medicare through payroll taxes and self-employment taxes. The contribution is likely to continue for some time, despite a decrease in Mexican immigration.

They found that care for immigrants costs Medicare slightly less money than care for non-immigrants, at an expenditure of $3,923 for immigrant enrollees and $5,388 for U.S-born enrollees.

"Having ourselves witnessed immigrants dying needlessly because of lack of health care, we (and many of our colleagues) are motivated by the belief that all patients have a human right to healthcare," researchers concluded. "Economic concerns--including the worry that immigrants are driving up U.S. healthcare costs--have dominated the debate over immigration. Our data offer a new perspective on these economic concerns."

As FierceHealthPayer reported at the end of March, immigration is just one of many things Americans have misconceptions about when it comes to healthcare law. In a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 47 percent of responders said they believed the Affordable Care Act granted subsidies to undocumented immigrants.

To learn more:
- read the research from Health Affairs

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