Talk about a one-two punch to the U.S. health care system's gut. First there's the widely publicized 40 million new clients that will enter Medicare's ranks by 2050 as Baby Boomers age into the system. Then, there's the much less publicized, but still ominous, aging undocumented worker wave about to hit the system.

This group, representing millions of illegal immigrants, is for the most part uninsured. To date, its members have made few demands on a system they don't trust and can't afford. But as they age and their health breaks down, they will find the system, and in all likelihood, enter through its most expensive doors: the ER or hospital admissions. Unable to pay for the care they receive, their cost will be shifted to the same health systems and insurers already panicking about how to care for those with coverage.

The Pew Charitable Trusts outlined this quietly building demand in its Stateline publication. An article entitled Aging, Undocumented and Uninsured Immigrants Challenge Cities and States reviewed research on the health care needs these estimated 11 million undocumented residents will have as they grow older in America. Because most don't even quality for Medicaid, they will be forced to go to hospitals and emergency rooms for treatment as conditions that have gone untreated worsen with age. And, the article concluded, the current health care model in the U.S. makes no provision for covering the cost of their care beyond shifting it to those with coverage.

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.