A new study challenges the political notion that undocumented immigrants are a burden on the U.S. health care system — in fact, they’re much less likely to seek medical care at all, the study found.
The four-year study, from Drexel University in Philadelphia and published in the journal Medical Care, relies on a California health survey and finds undocumented immigrants are using health care services at a lower rate than they did 15 years ago.
“There are significant disparities in access to and utilization of health care by legal authorizations status,” Alex Ortega, of Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health, said in a statement. “And given the current political climate that is very hostile to immigration — especially from Latin America — we can only expect the disparities to get worse.”
Surveyors spoke with more than 51,000 non-elderly Latino and U.S. born non-Latino white adults. They found that fewer than half of undocumented immigrants surveyed had health insurance, with four in 10 “not having a regular source of care or having seen a doctor at all.”
While 61 percent of white survey respondents reported being in “excellent” or “very good” health, a quarter of undocumented immigrants said the same.
Despite that, undocumented immigrants were found to have fewer diagnoses of high blood pressure, heart disease or asthma, something that perplexes researchers.
“There are two ways to interpret this,” Ortega said in a statement. “One way is that immigrants are not accessing services because they do not have a medical need. Another way is that they do not have physician-based diagnoses of chronic disease because they have not used primary care and preventive services that would provide the opportunity to be screened and diagnosed.”
Regardless, “the political talking point that undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. and overburden our health care system is not evidenced by our findings,” Ortega said in a statement.
It’s not just the physical wellness of undocumented immigrants that raises concerns, the study found.
More than three quarters of survey respondents said they would not seek mental health treatment, and just one in 20 said they had seen a mental health professional within the last year, according to the study.
“When people do not access needed mental health services, it is problematic for the person, his or her family and society as a whole,” Ortega said in a statement. “Delaying seeking necessary mental health care can lead to more serious disease and exacerbation of symptoms in many cases.”