Study Says Immigrants Put Billions Into Medicare

When the topic of immigration reform and health care comes up, immigrants are oftentimes expected to be a drain on federal programs. But a new study published Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs is debunking that myth.

Conducted by Harvard University, the study revealed immigrants contributed $115 billion more to Medicare than they drew out between 2002 and 2009.

Harvard researchers looked at immigrants’ contributions to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which covers senior hospital visits and is largely financed by payroll taxes, meaning current workers pay into the program. What they found was that immigrants generated a $13.8 billion surplus in 2009. US-born workers, meanwhile, created a deficit of $30.9 billion as they spent more in the Medicare program than the revenue brought in.

While there is no guarantee immigration reform will solve Medicare's financial woes—the study does not look into what happens when immigrant workers get older and age into the Medicare program—researchers conclude that an increasing flow of immigrants would help boost its sustainability.

“Policies that reduce immigration would almost certainly weaken Medicare’s financial health,” the study says. “Encouraging a steady flow of young immigrants would help offset the aging of the US population and the health care financing challenge that it presents.”