Health Coverage for Legal Immigrant Children: New Census Data Highlights Importance of Restoring Medicaid and SCHIP Coverage

Leighton Ku and Shannon Blaney Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

To examine changes in immigrants’ health insurance coverage, the report’s authors analyzed and compared the 1995 and 1999 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), the most commonly used survey for health insurance trends. The examination focused on families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line. (Unless otherwise indicated, the immigrant children referred to in the report are noncitizens, but due to the way the CPS is compiled, it is not known how many are illegal aliens.)

The report found that low-income immigrant children were more than twice as likely to be uninsured in 1999 as were low-income citizen children with native-born parents (46 percent versus 20 percent). It also found that between 1995 and 1999, the proportion of low-income immigrant children enrolled in publicly funded coverage fell by 8 percentage points (to 28 percent), more than twice the drop for similar children of native-born parents. The authors also believe that many legal immigrant women who are pregnant are losing health insurance coverage.

Disparities in coverage are no surprise given the 1996 welfare and immigration laws’  restrictions on the eligibility of noncitizen legal immigrants for public benefits, including Medicaid. The 13 states opting to provide insurance for noncitizen legal immigrants who entered the U.S. after August 21, 1996, must bear the full cost.

The authors advocate restoring federal funds for Medicaid and SCHIP (State Children s Health Insurance Program) for noncitizen immigrant children and pregnant noncitizen immigrant women. They say this would increase access to preventative medicine and ease demand on local clinics and hospitals by decreasing the need for emergency care. 15 pages. Free. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 820 First St., NE, Ste. 510, Washington, DC 20002.

-Amy Bracken



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