Victoria Utah

Immigrant Healthcare

An analysis of barriers immigrants face in the American healthcare system, written by a high school senior.

November 2, 2016

Dear Future President,

I am writing this to you during the last week before election day, and this campaign has definitely been an eventful one. I feel like there has been one issue that has overarched the last year-and-a-half: immigration. This can branch into several other debates, such as racism and economics and national security. However, there is one side that is not always covered in the news: immigrant healthcare. Many immigrants not only don’t speak English, but lack legal status, so there are many barriers that immigrants encounter when seeking medical care, such as having to choose between treatment and being deported in an emergency, or simply facing the difficulties of navigating the American healthcare system that is foreign to them. One of the main reasons they are also denied healthcare is because they are uninsured, with "14.5 million immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) who lack health insurance" (Center for Immigration Studies). Even "among legal immigrants (non-citizens), 27 percent were uninsured in 2006", due to factors such as the language barrier, education, and economics (Center for Immigration Studies).

Some argue that not offering medical care to undocumented immigrants would serve as a barrier that discourages immigration, but this raises several ethical and moral issues. Is it right to deny treatment for a life-threatening case because a person entered the country illegally? Are there other barriers that could be instituted in order to discourage immigration other than denying healthcare? There are also barriers that documented immigrants face as well. One of the biggest is the language barrier, and with a lack of translators in many hospitals this complicates the process extensively. One also has to take into account a lack in health education, as well as sensitivity on the part of medical care providers for cultural nuances in different healthcare systems around the world. Reform in these areas in order to help immigrants navigate the healthcare system could lead to the development of a trusting relationship between doctor and patient, and could help physicians and other healthcare professionals develop awareness and sensitivity to cultural differences that may impact the outcome of medical care for patients. Besides the fact that it is morally right to treat all patients equally and adequately, such pushes for reform could have a positive economic impact on healthcare costs by attending or preventing major and more costly illnesses.

This is an issue that is hidden in the set of problems facing our country, but it affects an extensive number of people. Not only would immigrants and health providers benefit from analysis and solution-crafting of this problem, but it would develop an awareness of the role of bias and prejudice as well, leading to positive changes in clinics and hospitals and addressing other immigration dilemmas.