By Rebekah Addy, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent
ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- How much do undocumented immigrants really cost the U.S. health care system? A new study from researchers in North Carolina takes a look at the figures.
Emergency Medicaid for undocumented and recent immigrants is increasing at a faster rate for the elderly and the disabled. However, the recent study reveals childbirth and complications associated with pregnancy account for the majority of cases in North Carolina.
Researchers from the Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence in Cary, N.C., looked at administrative claims of the emergency care given to 48,391 patients in North Carolina between 2001 and 2004. They report 99 percent of the claims they analyzed were for undocumented immigrants. Of those patients, 93 percent were Hispanic, 95 percent were female, and 89 percent were between ages 18 and 40.
Over four years, health care funding for pregnant women increased 22 percent. In the same period, funding increased 70 percent for families with dependent children, 82 percent for disabled patients, and 98 percent for elderly patients. Author C. Annette DuBard, M.D., M.P.H., told Ivanhoe, "I think it highlights a question of whether spending for labor and delivery services and emergency of pregnancy could somewhat be averted by expanding access for this populations to comprehensive prenatal care and family planning services."
Federal law excludes immigrants who have been in the United States less than five years and undocumented immigrants from Medicaid. However, children, elderly or disabled, families with dependent children and pregnant women do have some access to care in emergency situations with Emergency Medicaid, as long as they meet residency and state income requirements.
Dr. Dubard said, "It raises some information that hasn't been previously been out there that may be helpful to all of us in thinking about how to allocate the health care dollar and perhaps identify ways to prevent medical emergency rather then just responding to them."
Dr. DuBard explained states with similar Emergency Medicaid guidelines likely have similar figures.
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SOURCE: Ivanhoe interview with C. Annette DuBard, M.D., M.P.H., The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2007;297:1085-1092