New York Times Examines Health Care Access of Undocumented Immigrants
The New York Times on Saturday examined access to health care for undocumented immigrant farm workers in the U.S., who often do not have health coverage. According to the Times, some farm workers will go to a hospital or a clinic if they are severely ill, but most of them, "particularly indigenous Mexican groups," receive most of their care from a "parallel system of spiritual healers, home remedies and self-medication." The Times reports that immigrants in interviews said cost was the most dominant factor in not receiving care but that "other factors included fear of deportation, long waits for treatment in medically underserved areas, and barriers of culture and language."
Although there is no "firm projection" of the cost of treating the estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., a RAND study in 2000 estimated the cost at $6.4 billion, of which $1.1 billion was from public funds. RAND found that about half of male undocumented immigrants had not seen a doctor in the previous year and that one in six had never seen a physician. Female undocumented immigrants might "receive occasional checkups" because they are generally eligible for prenatal and obstetrical care through state Medicaid programs, according to the Times. The Times reports that other studies have found that undocumented immigrants are about half as likely as other U.S. residents to seek care in emergency departments, where hospitals are required to provide care regardless of ability to pay or immigration status.
Studies have found that many undocumented immigrants are healthy when they enter the U.S. However, they "develop the trademark afflictions of their new home: diabetes, obesity, asthma, high blood pressure and high cholesterol," according to the Times. In addition, long hours of field work can leave them with various afflictions. Public health officials say lack of access to care among undocumented immigrants can lead to the spread of communicable diseases. In addition, they say that the group has a "rampant use of antibiotics, often without any medical direction," which can contribute to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Undocumented immigrants' status also leaves them with "little protection against dangerous or fraudulent practices" by traditional healers, the Times reports (Sack, New York Times, 5/10).
An accompanying video clip about migrant workers' access to health care is also available online. The video, "Seeking Cures With No Prescription," is by documentary producer Tom Jennings, who created the piece while he was a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow.