Yesterday, the Center for American Progress released a report on “Immigrants in the U.S. Health Care System: Five Myths That Misinform the American Public.” One of the hotly debated myths is the cost of medical care for such immigrants. A paper published in Health Affairs and cited in the new report found that “the foreign-born (especially the undocumented) use disproportionately fewer medical services and contribute less to health care costs in relation to their population share.”

This past April, Mexico’s new secretary of health, Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos, visited the San Francisco Bay area and “plans to meet every six months with U.S. health officials and Mexican immigrant communities” to discuss health care for Mexicans in the United States, reported The San Francisco Chronicle. In the article, Mario Gutierrez of The California Endowment (TCE) explained: “Californians should care about the health of immigrant workers because the state’s economy relies on their labor….If we can provide basic essential services to keep people healthy, we’re not going to be paying for more catastrophic issues later on.” Gutierrez also suggested that this visit by Cordova, early in the administration of new Mexican president Felipe Calderon, means that Mexico will continue to seek ways to share the responsibility of health care for Mexican immigrants working in the United States. TCE “is trying to help craft a basic health insurance policy for Mexican immigrants.”

Last month, in follow-up interview with Health Affairs, Gutierrez said that Cordova plans to attend the next Binational Health Week Policy Summit, which is expected to be held at TCE in Los Angeles in October 2007. Gutierrez explained that President Calderon “has embraced” the comprehensive health plan “for all Mexican citizens in Mexico,” called Seguro Popular, created by the previous health minister, Julio Frenk (who now works for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). The plan “has been evolving slowly for the last three years, but it’s only been in the last year that enrollment has reached significant levels,” Gutierrez said. Mexican workers in the United States can buy into the plan for their families “back home and for themselves, if and when they return to Mexico.”

Gutierrez told the journal that TCE’s goal “is to find the common ground between employers, workers, providers (in particular, community clinics), private health plans, Mexico,” and maybe county governments and the state and federal governments “to cobble together a more seamless health plan [for Mexican workers in the United States] with everyone sharing some cost.” He said that making this “a reality is a challenge” in today’s political climate. However, “despite this, we’re moving the agenda along and hope to be closer to reality” later in 2007 once all “the politics” of immigration and California health care reform “play out,” Gutierrez commented.

For more on immigrant health care, California health policy, and news from health care foundations, see Health Affairs’ most recent GrantWatch Online [free access].

And for latest on the immigration debate in the Senate, see yesterday’s New York Times.