Californians Seek Medical Care in Mexico

An estimated 952,000 California adults sought medical, dental or prescription services in Mexico annually, and of these, 488,000 were Mexican immigrants, according to the research paper, "Heading South: Why Mexican Immigrants in California Seek Health Services in Mexico."

The paper is based on an analysis of 2001 data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation's largest state health survey. "What the research shows is that many Californians, especially Mexican immigrants, go to Mexico for health services," said lead author Steven P. Wallace. "We already know that immigrants use less health care overall than people born in the U.S. Heading south of the border further reduces the demand on U.S. facilities." Cost and lack of insurance were primary reasons both Mexican and non-Mexican U.S. residents sought health services across the border.

Both "long-stay" Mexican immigrants (those in the U.S. for more than 15 years) and "short-stay" immigrants (less than 15 years) have high rates of uninsurance: 51.5 percent of short-stay immigrants and 29 percent of long-stay immigrants do not have medical insurance. "

Both short-stay and long-stay immigrants have even higher rates of uninsurance for dental care: 77.6 percent and 51.6 percent, respectively. Not surprisingly, dental care was the most common service obtained by immigrants. Among non-Latino whites, prescription drugs were the most common medical service obtained in Mexico.

Other findings include that immigrants who travel to Mexico for health services are not necessarily the poorest. One explanation: The cost of travel may offset any financial savings, creating a disincentive for the very poor to travel. Besides cost savings, cultural and linguistic barriers and immigration factors were also important motivators.

How often immigrants cross the border to Mexico for health services is particularly relevant to efforts to create and expand bi-national health insurance plans, Wallace said. Since 2000, several private insurance companies and at least one employer group have developed such plans. These plans may be both more cost-effective for employers and more culturally relevant for participants, Wallace said.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of California - Los Angeles