By David Iaconangelo, May 30, 2013 11:58 AM EDT
A study from Harvard Medical School published in the June issue of medical journal Health Affairs found that since 2002, immigrants have contributed billions of dollars more to Medicare than they have taken out of the program. The researchers say their findings might be attributable to the high proportion of working-age taxpayers among noncitizens, and conclude that "policies restricting immigration may deplete Medicare's financial resources."
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Researchers wrote that from 2002 through 2009, immigrants paid in a surplus of $115 billion ($11.1-$17.2 billion yearly), compared to the deficit of $28 billion run up by the American-born population.
The study did not distinguish between contributions made by documented and undocumented immigrants, though researchers indicated that their estimate of how much noncitizens contributed was a conservative one, as undocumented immigrants tend to avoid participating in government surveys such as the two from which the team drew their data. The team says that this probable underrepresentation of the undocumented would have "little impact" on the study's findings, since the amount of money they would withdraw from Medicare would be minimal. The Social Security Administration's Office of the Chief Actuary estimates that undocumented immigrants put in about $2.5 billion toward the program in 2007 - a fraction of the $12 billion they made in payments to the Social Security Retirement Trust Fund, of which one-fifth goes to Medicare and four-fifths to Social Security.
Part of the disparity between what citizens and noncitizens contribute or take out of Medicare might be explained by demographic differences. Most immigrants are working-age taxpayers, while few belong to the elderly age-range who draw from Medicare funds.
The bipartisan immigration reform plan which will come to the Senate floor for debate and a vote in June includes as a central tenet a path to citizenship for millions of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States before 2012. Its harshest critics call it amnesty for lawbreakers and say it would be a burden on the economy, while others - such as Marco Rubio, a Republican who helped craft the bill - assert it provides for too little in the securing of the border.
The Harvard team said the path to citizenship would impact Medicare funding in two ways: at first, it would boost it as more working immigrants paid into it, but over time the cost of the program could increase as more immigrants became eligible to receive it.
The latest ABC/Washington Post poll on immigration reform showed that 58 percent of Americans supported "a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants", with 38 percent opposing. But the same poll appeared to indicate that a large number of Americans did not feel strongly either way, while opponents to it were generally among those with the most intense feelings about it.