Immigrant families are faced with a myriad of challenges in the countries they settle in, top among these being access to health care. Children from low-income immigrant families are less likely to visit a doctor as compared to their U.S-born counterparts even when they have insurance. A report on immigration policy revealed that adult immigrants were less likely to use emergency rooms as compared to their low-income native counterparts. The study found that 44 percent of immigrant children with health insurance visited the doctor as compared to 69 percent of native children with insurance. Only 62 percent of immigrant children with public coverage visited the doctor compared to 71.5 percent of native children with similar cover. Regardless of whether or not the immigrant children were insured, the report found that a mere 47 percent of them visited the doctor compared to 69 percent of American children (Ku & Matani, 2001).
The adult immigrant population showed similar trends when it comes to access to health care. Data from Medical Expenditure Panel Survey showed that only 8 percent of low-income immigrants reported emergency room visits compared to 13 percent of their U.S born peers of the same financial status. Comparison of the uninsured revealed that 6 percent of immigrant adults reported emergency room visits as compared to 14 percent of their native counterparts. 17 percent of immigrants with public insurance visited an emergency room compared to 25 percent of their American-born peers ("Why Immigrants Lack Adequate Access to Health Care and Health Insurance", 2006). These different sets of statistics clearly show the low level of access to health care by immigrant families which begs the question; why do these families lack adequate access to health care?
This paper attempts to explore the implications of limited access to health care by immigrant families. The ecological perspective, in this case, is the immigrant label which implies that one’s access to health care opportunities diminishes by the mere fact that one has the label. I will be looking at why immigrant families have low access to health care and how this affects their livelihoods.
The high cost of medical care, as well as the diminishing health insurance coverage, are challenges that affect the long-term health policy of all American citizens. This problem is even more pronounced among immigrant families who have poor access to health care services. As the majority of these immigrants do not have health insurance, they end up digging into their pockets to cover their medical expenses, depleting their already meager financial status. The majority of the American citizens have employer-sponsored insurance to cover for their medical needs. This privilege is however not available to the immigrants. In case the immigrant employees accept these employer insurance offers, they have to shoulder some of the costs in the form of employee premiums as well as other cost-sharing mechanisms. This implies that most of these immigrants will be locked out from taking a medical insurance cover especially those whose incomes are low. They cannot afford the luxury of allowing their salaries to be slashed to cover for medical insurance.
Employers at times treat immigrants as a contract or part-time workers as a cost-cutting tool. This is because they will not be required to pay those benefits. Instead of hiring workers, some firms have resorted to contracting their labor, aware of the fact that they will save on costs as they are not required by law to pay benefits to contracted employees. Reports have shown that a mere 21 percent of the part-time and contract workers had insurance compared to 74 percent of their fully hired counterparts. Immigrants mostly work part-time or on contractual basis in such industries like construction and agriculture, and this is partly why as they have little access to health care.
The majority of low-income citizens in the United States are covered by Medicaid insurance program. However, not all immigrants are eligible for this insurance program, nor the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Fears within the immigrant community that obtaining Medicaid or SCHIP would reduce their chances of being an American citizen further led to the low number of immigrants access to health care ("The Health and Well-Being of Young Children of Immigrants", 2016).
Language barrier is also a major contributor to the low number of immigrants having access to medical care and health insurance. Some of these immigrants cannot fluently communicate in English, and if they perceive that they might encounter difficulties in explaining their medical condition to a nurse or a doctor, they will be less likely to seek medical care. Approximately 30 percent of foreign-born immigrants do not understand the English language or cannot speak it well.
Different perceptions held by the immigrants with regard to healthcare can negatively impact on access to health care. These immigrants carry with them different cultural perceptions from their mother countries. Some, for instance, stigmatize those who seek medical help for mental problems. Some do not see the importance of preventative health care as they are used to seeking treatment only when conditions have advanced and the disease has already attacked them. Such different perceptions held by immigrants all play a huge role in explaining the diminished number of immigrants with access to health care.
Legal status of immigrants also deters them from seeking medical care. They worry that seeking medical attention, especially from public facilities might reveal their illegal immigrant status which could imply that they might face sanctions from the authorities or even face possible deportation.
Immigrant children experience difficult economic conditions, neither do they fully enjoy benefits offered by the government, just like native-born children. Immigrant children have a high likelihood of being poor and experience food shortages as well as housing hardships. A comparison of immigrant children with native children shows that 56 percent of immigrant children were poor compared to 40 percent of the natives. Moreover, immigrant children were six times highly likely to receive assistance in the form of Food Stamps as compared to their native peers. The reason for this is that majority of the young noncitizen children do not qualify for federal benefits such as food stamps. To make matters worse, many eligible citizen children do not enjoy these benefits especially when they have noncitizen parents who are not even aware that their children are aware of such benefits (Ku & Matani, 2001).
Immigrant families will continue facing numerous health challenges if wide-reaching reforms are not undertaken in the health sector to make health care provision all inclusive. Much as there are numerous challenges in the health sector, immigrants are the ones who are acutely affected, as their status makes them ineligible to enjoy most benefits that are enjoyed by the natives. The mere status of being an immigrant denies them access to many health opportunities enjoyed by regular citizens.
Ku, L. & Matani, S. (2001). Left Out: Immigrants' Access To Health Care And Insurance. Health Affairs, 20(1), 247-256. http://dx.doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.20.1.247
The Health and Well-Being of Young Children of Immigrants. (2016). Webarchive.urban.org. Retrieved 10 July 2016, from http://webarchive.urban.org/publications/311139.html
Why Immigrants Lack Adequate Access to Health Care and Health Insurance. (2006). migrationpolicy.org. Retrieved 10 July 2016, from http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/why-immigrants-lack-adequate-access-health-care-and-health-insurance
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