Do Undocumented Immigrants Really Get Free Health Insurance? What Does It Cost You And Me?

Many 2020 Democratic contenders for the presidency have endorsed plans to provide healthcare and insurance benefits to all Americans — and all undocumented immigrants who are already living in the country, legally or not. No, they don’t already have free health insurance. But the cost of providing them healthcare on the taxpayers dime would certainly be “expensive” depending on your frame of reference, what plan you’re using, and how many people enroll.

The Republican argument is simple: they’re against nearly all entitlements across the board regardless of whether they’re going to actual United States citizens or undocumented immigrants. According to them, giving out freebies will make people less likely to contribute in the future. They also contend that the free “handouts” will lure immigrants into the country who wouldn’t otherwise want to come.

Many arguments that can only be seen as scare tactics have suggested that our population could double or even triple if such laws were to go into effect, and of course they contend that America can’t possibly pay for it. But that’s not true, either.

For most Americans, the argument holds quite a lot of weight — but it’s never held much truth. There’s an incredibly strong stigma surrounding those who survive on handouts. In general, those who rely on help from the government really do need that help. Few people actually choose to live that way for no reason, and the government severely restricts handouts to further reduce the number of those who do.

But of course increasing the number of people who are entitled to free healthcare (no one is yet), would increase the costs of those programs. According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), there are about 4.9 million undocumented immigrants living “below 400 percent of the poverty threshold.” They don’t have access to insurance.

Were they given access to programs, taxpayers would pay at least $10 billion per year according to CIS. At the high end of the spectrum, it could cost $23 billion per year.

To put big numbers we cannot even comprehend into perspective, the 2019 U.S. federal budget requested expenditures of $4.407 trillion. Over $693 billion of that is discretionary spending that goes to the military. Much of all spending is mandatory, but well under half is based on discretion. Over half of that goes to the military (not including veterans’ benefits). Other big pieces of the discretionary pie are government, education, healthcare, housing, and international affairs.

But none of those programs come close to costing as little as what we would pay to expand what Democrats see as universal human rights toward undocumented immigrants. And here’s another aspect to consider: the amount we provide individuals and companies in tax breaks slightly exceeds all discretionary spending. Stop giving out tax breaks — and suddenly the United States would see a budget surplus once again.