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Original Contribution
March 14, 2007

Trends in Emergency Medicaid Expenditures for Recent and Undocumented Immigrants

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Division of Medical Assistance, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Raleigh (Dr DuBard); The Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence, Cary, NC (Dr Massing).

JAMA. 2007;297(10):1085-1092. doi:10.1001/jama.297.10.1085

Context Undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants who have been in the United States less than 5 years are excluded from Medicaid eligibility, with the exception of limited coverage for emergency conditions (Emergency Medicaid). New immigrant population growth has been rapid in recent years, but little is known about use of health services by this group or the conditions for which Emergency Medicaid coverage has been applied.

Objective To describe Emergency Medicaid use by recent and undocumented immigrants including patient characteristics, diagnoses, and recent spending trends in North Carolina, a state with a rapidly increasing population of undocumented immigrants.

Design, Setting, and Patients Descriptive analysis of North Carolina Medicaid administrative data for all claims reimbursed under Emergency Medicaid eligibility criteria 2001 through 2004 in North Carolina, a state with high immigration from Mexico and Latin America. Patients are recent and undocumented immigrants who meet categorical and income criteria for Medicaid coverage, but are excluded from full coverage due to legal status.

Main Outcome Measures Patient characteristics, hospitalizations, diagnoses, and Medicaid spending for emergency care.

Results A total of 48 391 individuals received services reimbursed under Emergency Medicaid during the 4-year period of this study. The patient population was 99% undocumented, 93% Hispanic, 95% female, and 89% in the 18- to 40-year age group. Total spending increased by 28% from 2001 through 2004, with more rapid spending increases among elderly (98%) and disabled (82%) patients. In 2004, childbirth and complications of pregnancy accounted for 82% of spending and 91% of hospitalizations. Injury, renal failure, gastrointestinal disease, and cardiovascular conditions were also prevalent.

Conclusions Childbirth and complications of pregnancy account for the majority of Emergency Medicaid spending for undocumented immigrants in North Carolina. Spending for elderly and disabled patients, however, is increasing at a faster rate. Among nonpregnant immigrants, injuries, other acute emergencies, and severe complications of chronic disease are major contributors to Emergency Medicaid use.