Newswise — Without proper access to health care, older undocumented Latino immigrants will experience higher unmet medical need in the next 20 years, according to a recent study conducted by University of California, Irvine public health researchers.

“Unless we see improvements in access to care, our projections show that the share of older uninsured, undocumented Latino immigrants will increase from 15% to 21% over the next 20 years,” said corresponding author and associate professor of public health, Annie Ro, PhD, of the UCI Program in Public Health. “We also found that the share of older Latino immigrants that is both uninsured and living with a chronic health condition will rise from 5% to 9%.”

Findings were published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

Undocumented Latino immigrants are aging more rapidly than the general US population. The study estimates that in 20 years , 27% of undocumented Latino immigrants will be over the age of 65 if current mortality and immigration trends persist, compared to 20% of the general U.S. population. This underscores the need for major policy reform to reduce disparities and counteract the rise in chronic health conditions that come with an aging population.

“We’ve long known that more needs to be done to address these disparities. Our projections lend evidence to the argument for better healthcare policies aimed at improving health access concerns for the increasingly older, undocumented Latino population,” Ro emphasized.

Projections were based on the 2013-2018 American Community Survey, an annual survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau to track nationwide changes in population and housing. It is primarily used to help local officials, community leaders and businesses understand the changes underway in their communities. Health insurance and chronic health conditions projection used baseline data from the 2003-2014 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). Using both surveys as a baseline, Ro and team were able to develop projections for growth in the Latino 55+ undocumented population over the next 20 years.

“Our projections accounted for different migration and policy scenarios,” Ro added. “In addition to estimating population growth, we also looked at the ways in which health insurance coverage might change under certain conditions.”

Ro and collaborators compared the results of a “status quo” scenario with two alternative scenarios that consider different levels of migration from Latin America: the “high immigration” scenario (50% higher than 2015-2019 rates) and “low immigration” scenario (half of 2015-2019 rates), as well as the Biden Administration’s proposed immigration legislation.

Despite the growing concern about the aging U.S. population among researchers and policymakers, the aging of the immigrant population, particularly undocumented immigrants, remains vastly understudied. Ro and collaborators’ study will fill critical gaps in literature and provide public health officials and legislators with the data needed to craft proactive, equitable health policy. By anticipating future changes in demographics and health insurance trends, the public health sector can better prepare interventions aimed at supporting the increasingly aging undocumented Latino immigrant population.

Co-investigators included Jennifer Van Hook, PhD, Roy C. Buck professor of sociology and demography at the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts and Katrina M. Walsemann, PhD, associate professor and Roger C. Lipitz chair in health policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.

This work was supported by the Russell Sage Foundation.

Journal Link: Journals of Gerontology: Series B