Is Affording Undocumented Immigrants Health Coverage a Radical Proposal?

JAMA, Vol. 322, Number 15, Pp. 1348-1349, 2019

Posted: 5 Nov 2019

See all articles by Lawrence O. Gostin

Lawrence O. Gostin

Georgetown University - Law Center - O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law

Date Written: October 15, 2019

Abstract

During the Democratic presidential debate on July 31, all 10 candidates raised their hands when asked if they would provide health insurance to undocumented immigrants. Among all Democratic ideas for health reform, this is least popular. A recent poll found that only 38% of respondents approve. The idea drew extensive criticism, which is understandable: Why should the United States provide health coverage for people who don’t have a legal right to be here? Extending coverage could be seen as rewarding individuals who have violated the law.

There are, however, strong reasons to afford health coverage for this population: modest economic costs, safeguarding the public’s health by curbing the spread of infectious diseases, and complying with international law that requires health coverage for migrants. Many countries fail to afford migrants equitable access to health coverage, so adopting a policy of providing undocumented immigrants on par with other residents — integrated into existing federal health insurance programs — would help the United States regain moral leadership, in line with World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN) guidelines, and potentially save money (discussed below).

Suggested Citation

Gostin, Lawrence O., Is Affording Undocumented Immigrants Health Coverage a Radical Proposal? (October 15, 2019). JAMA, Vol. 322, Number 15, Pp. 1348-1349, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3475615

Lawrence O. Gostin (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Law Center - O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9038 (Phone)
202-662-9055 (Fax)

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