Nativists and anti-health care reform activists often warn that health care reform would “lure more immigrants” into the US, but they don’t mention that the nation’s current health care system is motivating many US citizens to leave. USA Today reports that thousands of American retirees have crossed the Southern border to sign up for a health care plan run by the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS).
Mexican immigrants to the US are, for the most part, economic migrants whose primary concern is (and likely always will be) finding work. However, the broken US health care system has been driving American retirees who are less worried about finding jobs, and more concerned about staying healthy to Mexico where they can enroll in “a health care plan with no limits, no deductibles, free medicines, tests, X-rays, eyeglasses, even dental work — all for a flat fee of $250 or less a year.” There are approximately between 40,000 and 80,000 U.S. retirees currently living in Mexico. “It was one of the primary reasons I moved here. I couldn’t afford health care in the United States…To me, this is the best system that there is,” said one retiree who now lives in Sonora.
Many citizens of immigrant-sending countries have better access to health care at home than they would in the US, but that also doesn’t mean that they will flood the borders if the US health care system significantly improves. The big difference is that American retirees are eligible for IMSS benefits, while subsidized health care won’t even be on the table for most foreigners who might consider migrating to the US. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for credits or subsidies under the current House and Senate health care bills and legal immigrants have to wait five years to receive any benefits. Irrespective of whether they are covered or not, health care is usually a secondary concern for most migrants who are more worried about being able to simply put food on the table.