Examining Health Care Access Of Undocumented Immigrant

Armen Hareyan's picture

The New York Times on Saturday examined access tohealth care for undocumented immigrant farm workers in the U.S., who oftendo not have health coverage. According to the Times, some farmworkers will go to a hospital or a clinic if they are severely ill, but most ofthem, "particularly indigenous Mexican groups," receive most of theircare from a "parallel system of spiritual healers, home remedies andself-medication." The Times reports that immigrants ininterviews said cost was the most dominant factor in not receiving care butthat "other factors included fear of deportation, long waits for treatmentin medically underserved areas, and barriers of culture and language."

Although there is no "firm projection" of the cost of treating theestimated 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. RANDfound that about half of male undocumented immigrants had not seen a doctor inthe previous year and that one in six had never seen a physician. Femaleundocumented immigrants might "receive occasional checkups" becausethey are generally eligible for prenatal and obstetrical care through stateMedicaid programs, according to the Times. The Timesreports that other studies have found that undocumented immigrants are abouthalf 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 orimmigration status.

Studies have found that many undocumented immigrants are healthy when theyenter 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 canleave them with various afflictions. Public health officials say lack of accessto care among undocumented immigrants can lead to the spread of communicablediseases.

In addition, they say that the group has a "rampant use ofantibiotics, often without any medical direction," which can contribute toan increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Undocumented immigrants'status also leaves them with "little protection against dangerous orfraudulent practices" by traditional healers, the Timesreports (Sack, New York Times, 5/10).

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