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Study shows recent immigrants require less medical care

Mexican-American immigrants who are more integrated into American culture were found to be less healthy and to require more medical resources than more recent immigrants, a recent study that included Duke researchers found.

The study noted that in 2008 there were nearly 38 million immigrants living in the United States. Mexican immigrants are the largest sub-group and comprise one-third of those who immigrated to the U.S. between 1990 and 2000. Although the immigrants appear healthy when they arrive in the United States, their health deteriorates over time as they integrate, especially in the case of men.

Relying on data from the 1998-2007 National Health Interview Survey, the findings contradict the popular belief that recent immigrants are a drain on the U.S. health care system and a burden to taxpayers, said co-author Patrick Krueger, assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver.

“What we typically see in literature is that actually Mexicans that come into the United States are in better health than comparable individuals in the United States and use less health care,” Krueger said.

The study’s focus on gender was intended to address a gap in academic literature, the study’s abstract noted. One part of the researchers’ explanation of gender differences was that women—who usually assume caretaker roles and are more likely to be in contact with doctors for their children or elderly family members—are more aware of their health ailments.

Among Mexican-Americans who recently immigrated, women often appear to have more negative health issues. Women are more familiar with their medical problems than men, so they sometimes appear to be sicker when surveyed, said co-author Jen’nan Read, associate professor of sociology and global health at Duke.

“Men say to the survey that they don’t have all these ailments, but they are just less aware,” Read said. “Over time, men start going to the doctor more.”

For immigrants, there are often financial, linguistic and logistical barriers to accessing care. Read said that oftentimes recent immigrants are busy trying to establish their lives and do not have the time or resources to learn to maneuver a complicated and expensive health care system.

In order to close the health gap between men and women, Read said increased usage of the health care system is important, especially at the early stages of an illness. She warned that men are going to the doctor too late and argued that it would be less costly for the public to treat ailments early on.

“In reality, once it gets to the end stage, you can’t deny health care,” Read said. “We’re paying anyway. It’s going to cost money. It’s a lot cheaper and more humane to treat people early.”

Read concluded that the public in general—but immigrants in particular—need to be educated on how and when to utilize the health care system.

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