Originally created 09/17/00

The uninsured crisis

The number of Americans without health insurance has fostered proposals from every political quarter. Interestingly, a Democrat and a Republican - former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm and Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga. - provide a sensible analysis of the hidden catalyst behind the rising number of uninsured.

They teamed up on a research project and found recent immigrants and their young children accounted for nearly 60 percent of the growth since the mid-1990s.

"If that current trend continues," they warn in a joint statement, "immigration will likely add 5-to-6 million people to the ranks of the uninsured over the next 10 years."

They cite a new report by the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies that one-third of new immigrants have no insurance - almost two and a half times the rate for natives. They add that "Washington's immigration policy is clearly making it more difficult and costly to deal with the problem."

Lamm and Norwood note that in 1997 Congress created the Children's Health Insurance Program at an annual cost of $4 billion. About 1 million poor children have been enrolled. Yet, after three years, the massive influx of uninsured legal and illegal aliens have offset most of the gains made by this program.

Lamm and Norwood, citing the center's studies, underscore that the reason so many immigrant families are uninsured is that the vast majority "have very little education." This flies in the face of the myth spread by cheap-labor businesses and their media allies that most immigrants are educated and highly skilled.

All this means Americans with insurance end up paying higher premiums as health care providers pass along the costs to treat the uninsured. Every taxpayer is also gouged because public hospitals are strained or going broke trying to provide care to an ever growing indigent/uninsured population.

Lamm and Norwood estimate the total cost of treating the uninsured is $30 billion annually - not including the $150 billion spent on Medicaid.

"The sole responsibility for immigration's exacerbation of the uninsured crisis rests with a federal policy which imports 700,000 to 900,000 people per year, generally with little education or skill, and consciously avoids the measures necessary to reduce illegal immigration," they say.

This is the latest confirmation of what we've said editorially for years: It is healthy to have a national debate on expanding health care access, but there's no doubt our virtual open-border policy complicates the task.

Sensible reforms leading to a policy of low immigration are a necessary precondition of any plan to extend health coverage to all Americans, this bipartisan duo concludes.


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