Local, State Health Departments Forced To Cut Services for Undocumented Immigrants Amid Economic Recession
Reductions to public health and nonemergency services by state and county health departments in response to the economic recession have resulted in limited access to care for undocumented immigrants, the Christian Science Monitor reports. For many states, budget cuts often mean reduced funding for programs for uninsured residents, many of whom are low-income and undocumented immigrants, the Monitor reports. Although low-income residents usually qualify for state- or federal-subsidized health care coverage, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for such coverage.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, about 64% of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., or 7.2 million people, do not have health insurance. Steve Camarota, a statistician and demographer for CIS, said, "The states and local governments tend to bear the brunt of [undocumented] immigration." A 2007 Congressional Budget Office report found that costs for public services for undocumented immigrants at state and local levels are more than they pay for taxes. However, the report also noted that such expenses account for less than 5% of total public service spending.
Robert Pestronk, executive director of National Association of County and City Health Officials, said that while there "simply isn't enough revenue to support the network of services which heretofore has been expected," health care spending in the U.S. is significant and there should be enough services to provide care for everyone. "This crisis points up the need to have political will and courage to use what we know to create the conditions in which we can all be healthy," Pestronk added.
The cuts to public health services potentially could "refire the debate over providing social services such as health care" to undocumented immigrants, the Monitor reports. Immigrant advocates say that cutting health services and programs would shift the cost burden onto hospital emergency departments or acute-care treatment centers. Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said, "(I)f you send someone home who is ill, that person is only going to get worse or infect others, in which case you have a larger, more expensive situation on your hands."
Supporters of immigration reform say that the problems also create expenses for the rest of society, according to the Monitor. Ira Mehlman, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said, "We would like to give great health care to everyone but we just can't," adding, "Cheap labor is only cheap to the employer, while everyone else has to pay the social costs -- such as education and health care -- and they can be enormous" (Wood, Christian Science Monitor, 3/24).