SAN DIEGO Mexicans who recently arrive in the United States many illegally are far less likely to visit hospital emergency rooms than long-term Mexican immigrants or people born in the United States, a report said Thursday.
Researchers at Mexico's National Population Council and the University of California found that only 9.8 percent of Mexican adult migrants living in the United States 10 years or less visited an emergency room in the past year. That's less than half the rate among people born in the United States 19.9 percent for people of Mexican ancestry born in the United States and 20 percent for U.S.-born whites.
Among Mexican immigrants living in the United States more than 10 years, 13.7 percent visited an emergency room in the previous year, according to an analysis of data collected in 2000 for the U.S. National Health Interview Survey.
The findings run counter to a widespread belief that illegal immigrants are a major burden on emergency rooms, said Mario Gutierrez, program director of rural and agricultural health at The California Endowment, a private health foundation that co-sponsored the study.
The study draws on data from the U.S. Census, U.S. National Health Survey and Mexican government to compare health care access in the United States between new arrivals from Mexico, long-staying Mexican immigrants and native born.
The health survey data has been available a few years, but the findings are new, said Steven Wallace, associate director of UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and a co-author of the report.
"The data was not released yesterday but it was never looked at in this way," he said.
Many new arrivals are in the United States illegally. More than three-quarters of an estimated 440,000 annual arrivals from 2001 to 2004 crossed illegally, according to the Mexican government. Among migrants who arrived within the past 10 years, only 5.5 percent are U.S. citizens, according to 2004 U.S. Census data.
The report found migrants arrive in relatively good health. Only 6.8 percent considered themselves in fair or poor health, much lower than other groups. Only 2.6 percent were diagnosed with diabetes, also much lower than other groups.
Fewer new arrivals were found to seek medical care. More than 33 percent of women 18 to 64 years old had no pap smear in three years, higher than other groups. Only 29.7 percent of adults visited a dentist in the past year, much lower than other groups.
Not surprisingly, more than two-thirds of the new arrivals had no health insurance, compared with only 44.8 percent of long-term immigrants, 22.5 percent of Mexican-born Americans and 12.3 percent of U.S.-born whites.
The low utilization of emergency rooms comes despite high occupational hazards, the report said. Eighty-three percent of new arrivals are manual laborers working in jobs like construction and food preparation and farm work.
Fausta Hernandez, who migrated from the Mexican state of Guanajuato to Salinas, Calif., in 1971, said new arrivals are less likely to use emergency rooms because they worry they might be deported and are unable to pay. Some who speak indigenous language struggle to understand translators.
"Some of them have very serious problems but they won't go," Hernandez, 45, said in a phone interview. She has $30,000 in medical bills for having a uterine tumor removed four months ago. Insurance from her husband's employer, a mushroom packer, only picked up about half the tab.
Margarita Hernandez, 40, who came to the United States 20 years ago from the Mexican state of Michoacan, said the U.S. health care system can be daunting to new arrivals. Hernandez worked in a laundry and packed cauliflower before she was diagnosed with lung, neck and spinal cancer."They're very confused about the system," she said in a phone interview. "They also don't go because they don't want to get bad news."