What You Don’t Know about Immigrants and Medicaid Usage



The analytical firepower of the anti-immigrant right comes from the Center for Immigration Studies. Its latest report concludes that 42 percent of immigrant households, both legal and illegal, used Medicaid in 2012. Only 23 percent of households headed by a native-born American used Medicaid.

The report also discusses other welfare, including housing, food stamps, et cetera. It is a very thorough study with a wealth of detail. For example, it claims that immigrant households from Latin America are more likely to claim welfare than the native-born, while immigrant households from Asia or Europe are less likely. However, when stratified by education or income, it appears that immigrants at the same level as the native-born are more dependent on welfare.

Medicaid is a serious burden on the nation’s prosperity, and if immigrants are a big factor, that point should certainly be a policy issue. Nevertheless, the Center for Immigration Studies’ report has some challenges of its own.

Most importantly, the proportion of immigrants versus native-born “using” Medicaid or other welfare is less interesting than the dollar amount claimed by either group. For example, the so-called “Hispanic health paradox” is a poorly understood observation that people of Hispanic ethnicity are healthier than other groups at the same socio-economic level. So, the average immigrant dependent on Medicaid may cost taxpayers less than the average native-born.

Second, a household headed by an immigrant is not necessarily composed entirely of immigrants. The spouse or children may be native-born. It may not be possible to overcome this limitation of the data, but we should recognize it nevertheless.

Third, the immigrant dependent on Medicaid (or Obamacare) is caught in the same poverty trap as the native-born. Means testing for welfare and Obamacare results in high marginal income tax rates for anyone who strives to increase his household income. So, welfare as currently structured holds back both types of resident.

Finally, Medicaid and other welfare programs were not created by immigrants. They were created by politicians chosen by mostly native-born citizens. Stopping the growth of this welfare dependency is always available to those voters.

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