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Immigrants don’t move between states for public health insurance, study finds

Immigrants who have settled in one state are unlikely to move to another to enroll in public health insurance, a new Stanford study has shown.

Immigrants who have settled in one state are unlikely to move to another to enroll in public health insurance, a new Stanford study published in JAMA Pediatrics has found.

Different U.S. states have differing eligibility requirements for public health insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Following welfare reform in 1996, legal immigrants were required to live in the U.S. for five years before they could use such programs. But many states have since dispensed with this requirement for kids and pregnant women. Today, 31 states allow children who are lawful permanent residents to use public health insurance with no waiting period, and 32 states extend the same benefit to pregnant women who are lawful permanent residents.

Legislators in the remaining states sometimes express reluctance to extend public health insurance because of concerns that immigrants will move into their state to gain access to health care, driving up costs.

But that is unlikely, the new Stanford analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data showed. The study of more than 200,000 lawful immigrants found that people who might gain insurance eligibility by moving -- including pregnant women and families with immigrant children -- were actually no more likely to move to states where they could get public insurance than lawful immigrants who wouldn't benefit from expanded health care eligibility, such as single men or women past their childbearing years.

In a Stanford press release, study-co author Fernando Mendoza, MD, who specializes in immigrants' health, explains how he hopes policymakers will use the findings:

States that elect to eliminate the five-year waiting period for health benefits do not have to worry about this policy action drawing documented immigrant families from other states and thereby increasing the cost to their state... Indeed, providing preventive and timely care to documented children and their families would most likely cut overall cost by preventing their health conditions from becoming worse and thereby increasing the overall cost of health care.

Photo by Joey Csunyo

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