Health insurance coverage and medical expenditures of immigrants and native-born citizens in the United States

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



American Journal of Public Health


Volume 99, Kssue 7

Inclusive Pages



Emigrants and Immigrants--statistics & numerical data; Health Expenditures--statistics & numerical data; Insurance Coverage--statistics & numerical data; Population Groups--statistics & numerical data; Underserved Populations; Immigrant Health


Objectives. I examined insurance coverage and medical expenditures of both immigrant and US-born adults to determine the extent to which immigrants contribute to US medical expenditures.

Methods. I used data from the 2003 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to perform 2-part multivariate analyses of medical expenditures, controlling for health status, insurance coverage, race/ethnicity, and other sociodemographic factors.

Results. Approximately 44% of recent immigrants and 63% of established immigrants were fully insured over the 12-month period analyzed. Immigrants’ per-person unadjusted medical expenditures were approximately one half to two thirds as high as expenditures for the US born, even when immigrants were fully insured. Recent immigrants were responsible for only about 1% of public medical expenditures even though they constituted 5% of the population. After controlling for other factors, I found that immigrants’ medical costs averaged about 14% to 20% less than those who were US born.

Conclusions. Insured immigrants had much lower medical expenses than insured US-born citizens, even after the effects of insurance coverage were controlled. This suggests that immigrants’ insurance premiums may be crosssubsidizing care for the US-born. If so, health care resources could be redirected back to immigrants to improve their care. (AmJ Public Health. 2009;99:1322–1328. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.144733)


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Peer Reviewed


Open Access