One of the biggest debates about immigrants is the burden they place on the health care system, especially emergency rooms. The most recent data, however, show that Latinos and Asians — at least those in Orange County — use less than their share of emergency room services and are hospitalized at lower rates.

Latinos constitute 34 percent of Orange County’s populatiion but account for only 28 percent of emergency room visits and 27 percent of regular hospitalizations, according to the Orange County Geographic Health Profile.

Latinos’ low rate of hospitalization is generally thought to result from immigrants’ youth and relatively good health. “Supporting this notion is that the death rate for Hispanics is lower, and they have a longer average life expectancy than other groups in Orange County,” said Curtis Condon of the Orange County Health Care Agency, which released the Geographic Health Profile report this year.

Asians constitute 16 percent of the county population but account for 10 percent of hospitalizations and 7 percent of emergency room visits. Whites constitute 46 percent of the population but account for 57 percent of hospitalizations and 47 percent of emergency room visits.

Among all ethnic groups, private insurance was the single largest source of payment for emergency room visits, with public funding such as Medicare and Medi-Cal the second source.

Not surprisingly, elderly residents had the most hospitalizations in Orange County — almost four times the number of adults aged 45-64 and 14 times more than children.

Orange County’s hospitalization rate per 10,000 people was highest in the following zip codes: 92637 (Laguna Woods), 90742 (Sunset Beach) and 90740 (Seal Beach), according to the report.

Whatever their age and wherever they live, too many people in Orange County are going to the emergency room for health matters that could have been treated in a primary-care setting, according to the report. Forty-five percent of emergency room visits in the county last year were avoidable.

Overall, the 18-44 age group used the emergency room the most. Among Latinos, however, 40 percent of emergency room visits were to treat children under 18.

In addition to tracking hospitalizations, the Geographic Health Profile shows by ZIP code the rates of uninsured; presence of communicable diseases like HIV and tuberculosis; breastfeeding; cesarean section; and causes of death.


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