CHICAGO Illegal Latino immigrants do not cause a drag on the U.S. health care system as some critics have contended and in fact get less care than Latinos in the country legally, researchers said on Monday.
Such immigrants tend not to have a regular doctor or other health-care provider yet do not visit emergency rooms -- often a last resort in such cases -- with any more frequency than Latinos born in the United States, according to the report from the University of California's School of Public Health.
The finding from Alexander Ortega and colleagues at the school was based on a 2003 telephone survey of thousands of California residents, including 1,317 undocumented Mexicans, 2,851 citizens with Mexican immigrant parents, 271 undocumented Latinos from countries other than Mexico and 852 non-Mexican Latinos born in the United States.
About 8.4 million of the 10.3 million illegal aliens in the United States are Latino, of which 5.9 million are from Mexico, the report said.
"One recurrent theme in the debate over immigration has been the use of public services, including health care," Ortega's team wrote in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
"Proponents of restrictive policies have argued that immigrants overuse services, placing an unreasonable burden on the public. Despite a scarcity of well-designed research ... use of resources continues to be a part of the public debate," they said.
The researchers said illegal Mexican immigrants had 1.6 fewer visits to doctors over the course of a year than people born in the country to Mexican immigrants. Other undocumented Latinos had 2.1 fewer physician visits than their U.S.-born counterparts, they said.
"Low rates of use of health-care services by Mexican immigrants and similar trends among other Latinos do not support public concern about immigrants' overuse of the health care system," the researchers wrote.
"Undocumented individuals demonstrate less use of health care than U.S.-born citizens and have more negative experiences with the health care that they have received," they said.
(Reporting by Michael Conlon; Editing by Maggie Fox and Bill Trott)