Why immigrants are the best thing that happened to Medicare


America's growing immigrant population might not be all that bad for the country's health-care system. In fact, it's probably playing an important role in helping to keep it afloat.

U.S. immigrants' net contribution to Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, the program's core funding source, was $183 billion between 1996 and 2011. US-born Americans? Negative $69 billion, according to a new report by the Partnership for the New American Economy, an immigration advocacy group. That means that immigrants have been pumping a lot more money in than they take out, while the rest of the population has been doing just the opposite. On a per person basis, immigrants contributed $62 more per person to the trust fund than the U.S.-born, and claim $172 less in benefits.

By the institute's estimates, the cash contributed by immigrants over the 16-year span was more than a mere inconsequential boost. "Our analysis indicates that non-citizen immigrants, a group that includes both authorized and unauthorized immigrants, played a particularly large role subsidizing the care of the U.S.-born population," the report says. The net $183 billion contribution was enough to ensure the prolonged buoyancy of Medicare trust fund, which according to the most recent projection will remain solvent through 2030. Immigrants' contributions alone have helped secure three extra years of hospital coverage for the roughly 52 million Medicaid beneficiaries living in the U.S..

Why?

The reason lies mostly in one simple fact: Immigrants are much younger on average than the overall American populace, and younger people don't go to the doctor (or hospital, in this instance) nearly as often. By 2030, there will be more than 400 seniors to every 1,000 working-age adults in the U.S., according to estimates by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. For immigrants that number will be much lower (pdf), largely because Latinos, the fastest growing immigrant group in the country, pose a significantly lower financial risk, because of their relative age and health.

Roberto A. Ferdman is a reporter for Wonkblog covering food, economics, immigration and other things. He was previously a staff writer at Quartz.

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