Study Find Growing Immigrant Health Insurance Problem

June 13, 2005 ( - The growing trend of uninsured immigrants is increasingly taxing the US social services system, new research showed.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) said in a news release that its research indicated that immigrants accounted for just over 26% of the uninsured US population in 2003, up from nearly 19% in 1994. At the same time, the share of the uninsured population that was native-born fell to 74% in 2003 from 81% in 1994, EBRI found.

Of the 44.7 million US residents who were uninsured in 2003, some 11.6 million were immigrants, the study said. That compares with 6.9 million in 1994 – a 70% increase.

“Immigrants accounted for about one-third of the increase in the uninsured between 1994 and 1998, but between 1998 and 2003 they accounted for 86% of the increase,” Paul Fronstin, director of the EBRI Health Research and Education Program, in the news release . “To the degree that immigration continues to increase, it is likely that the uninsured will also continue to increase.”

One factor that contributed to the increase in the uninsured immigrant population, the study found, is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 – which restricted most newly arrived legal immigrants from participating in health and other public programs for five years after they entered the country, EBRI said.

“Although these restrictions were subsequently loosened a bit,” the study asserted, “the fact remains that fewer public benefits were available to recent immigrants during the latter part of the 1990s than earlier in the decade. And even after the five-year ban expired, immigrants may continue to be ineligible for public programs as a result of rules that attribute the income of an immigrant’s sponsor to the immigrant.”

For immigrants, the likelihood of being uninsured increased from 1994 to 2003, the study said, while it barely changed for native-born Americans. In 1994, 34% of immigrants were uninsured, but by 2003, the number rose to 38%. Meanwhile, the uninsured rate among native-born Americans rose less than 1%: from 14.1% in 1994 to 14.9% in 2003.

Additionally, the study found that:

  • Whether an immigrant is uninsured is highly correlated with the length of time he or she has been in the United States. Slightly more than one in five of foreign-born noncitizens who entered the United States before 1970 were uninsured in 2003. This compares with 43% uninsured foreign-born noncitizens who came in during the 1980s, and 53% uninsured foreign-born noncitizens who entered during 2000-2004.
  • The majority of the uninsured foreign-born non-citizen population is comprised of recent immigrants. About one-third of uninsured non-citizens entered the United States during 2000-2004, while another 46% came in during the 1990s. In contrast, a scant 3% of uninsured foreign-born naturalized citizens entered the United States during 2000 – 2004. About one-quarter entered during 1990-1999 and the remainder entered before 1990.
  • The study also notes that 60% of the uninsured immigrant population was concentrated in a four states in 2003. Slightly more than one-quarter of the 11.6 million immigrants in the United States lived in California, 15% in Texas, 10% in New York, and 9% in Florida.

The study, “The Impact of Immigration on Health Insurance Coverage in the United States,” is available here .