shutterstock_115761625A study released by the Harvard Medical School on Wednesday shows that immigrants as whole pay more into Medicare than they use, effectively subsidizing the program. The study found that in 2009 alone, immigrants created a $13.8 billion surplus for Medicare. From 2002 to 2009, immigrants paid a total of $115 billion more to the government health program than they used. American-born workers, on the other hand, posted a $28 billion deficit in the same 2002 to 2009 time frame.

Leah Zellman, who led the research team, explained possible reasons for the surplus, “Immigrants generate a surplus for Medicare primarily because so many of them are working age adults and the group has a high labor-force participation rate-a combination that generates large payroll tax payments.” Since the immigrant population contributing to Medicare is overall younger and larger than its American-born population, and is therefore not eligible, part of the surplus could be generated simply because of availability.

The authors of the study wrote that changes in immigration policies could have unanticipated consequences for the government program. They wrote, “Policies that reduce immigration would almost certainly weaken Medicare’s financial health, while an increasing flow of immigrants might bolster its sustainability.” Zellman said, “[This study] pokes a hole in the widespread assumption that immigrants drain U.S. health care spending dollars.”

The study also included some personal interjection from the authors on the issue of immigration. They wrote, “Having ourselves witnessed immigrants dying needlessly because of lack of health care, we (and many of our colleagues) are motivated by the belief that all patients have a human right to health care. But economic concerns – including the worry that immigrants are driving up US health care costs – have often dominated the debate over immigration. Our data offer a new perspective on these economic concerns.”

Media Resources: Washington Post 5/30/2013; Kaiser Health News 5/29/2013; New York Times 5/29/2013; Reuters 5/29/2013

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