Study: Immigrants generate Medicare dollars

A study from Harvard Medical School released by Reuters on May 29 said that immigrants generated a $13.8 billion surplus for Medicare in 2009, which is the most recent statistic. Not only that, immigrants made $115 billion in Medicare surplus from 2002 to 2009, whereas U.S.-born citizens had a deficit of $28 billion, according to the source. The study, also published in the journal Health Affairs, said the Medicare Trust Fund, which immigrants are largely contributing to, helps make payments to hospitals and institutions. The catch-22 here is that most immigrants who do not have citizenship are young and healthy, so they do not need access to these senior services.

The New York Times noted that this study presented information that is critical to the demographics of the U.S.: The young immigrant population is vital for helping cover the costs of Medicare and Social Security. The Times reported that since many baby boomers are beginning to retire, the economy has shifted, and the more money contributed to the fund, the better.

“The fact that immigrants substantially subsidize the Medicare Trust Fund, which is responsible for 22 percent of all U.S. health care spending, should cause us to rethink the prevailing descriptions of immigrants as net takers of health care resources and should, on grounds of fairness, prompt us to be less quick to deny access to care for immigrants through other public programs,” researchers Leah Zallman and Danny McCormick said in a press statement.

With the number of people retiring moving faster than the number of people entering the workforce, there is cause for concern that the Medicare Trust Fund will fall into the negatives by 2024, according to the Los Angeles Times. The source also noted that only 60 percent of the population is between ages 18 and 64. As for immigrants who are still in their working years, this number is at 80 percent. These figures show that the U.S. might need immigrant dollars to keep up with funding.

“Policies that reduce immigration would almost certainly weaken Medicare’s financial health, while an increasing flow of immigrants might bolster its sustainability,” Zallman and McCormick wrote in the conclusion of the study.

Skeptics have been weighing in on the costs or gains that immigrants may bring to the U.S., and some say that they will add expenses to the already-high debt that the country is experiencing. A recent report from The Heritage Foundation noted that allowing 11 million immigrants into the country for citizenship would cost the U.S. $6.3 trillion in inflation. The report also stated that immigrants would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits.

“A number of people in Congress do not want to consider the cost,” Jim DeMint, Heritage Foundation president and former Republican senator from South Carolina, told The Wall Street Journal. “They play their normal tricks of trying to push some of the expenses outside the 10-year window.”

Although the Heritage study has been denounced by many senators who support the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” legislation, some still say that more immigrants will take money from the Medicare Trust Fund as they age. Currently, statistics show that the largest immigrant population, Hispanics, have an average age of 27 years.

Others say that immigrants largely contribute to the nation’s economy, and their legalization will be welcomed dollars in the American bank.

“There’s this strong belief that immigrants are takers,” Leighton Ku, director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University, told The Times. “This shows they are contributing hugely. Without immigrants, the Medicare trust fund would be in trouble sooner.”