NEW YORK — The number of immigrants without health insurance has soared, accounting for most of the growth in the nation’s uninsured population, a new study finds.
Immigrants are much more likely than native-born Americans not to have health coverage, accounting for 86 percent of the increase in the uninsured population in the five years ended in 2003, according to research by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
The report, released Monday, finds that the increase is partly due to a 1996 federal law banning legal immigrants’ participation in public insurance programs for five years after arrival in the U.S. Those restrictions have since been loosened.
But the number of immigrants without insurance continues to grow rapidly, mostly because they are often clustered in jobs and industries that either do not offer insurance or pay low wages that make coverage unaffordable, concludes EBRI, a nonpartisan research group.
“Affordability is a huge issue,” said Paul Fronstin, director of the group’s health research program. “As long as the immigrant population grows as a share of the U.S. population, this situation is going to continue.”
Immigrants accounted for 26 percent of the nation’s uninsured population in 2003, up from nearly 19 percent in 1994, the study found. About 11.6 million immigrants were uninsured in 2003, up from 6.9 million a decade earlier, the report found.
In 2003, 44.7 million U.S. residents under age 65 were uninsured.
The report relies on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and does not break down changes between immigrants in this country legally and those who are here without permission.
For native-born Americans, the likelihood of being uninsured rose slightly over that decade to 14.9 percent. But the proportion of immigrants without coverage rose from 34 percent in 1994 to 38 percent in 2003.
Within the immigrant population, those with health insurance varied considerably by a number of factors. The longer immigrants have been in the U.S., for example, the better the chances they have coverage, the study found. Immigrants who have become U.S. citizens also are much more likely to be insured than those who are not.
About 60 percent of the entire uninsured immigrant population lives in just four states — California, New York, Florida and Texas.
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