Mass Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Legal Immigrants in Health Care Case

Advocates expect full restoration of health care coverage for thousands

1/5/2012 BOSTON --Today, in a unanimous decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that  the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of legal immigrants were violated when the state stripped them of their health care coverage in 2009. These immigrants were cut from the state's universal healthcare program, Commonwealth Care, during the budget crisis that resulted from the economic crash of 2008. The court's decision today furthered a previous ruling that financial considerations are not a justification for such discrimination.

"'[M]inorities rely on the independence of the courts to secure their constitutional rights against incursions of the majority;'" wrote Justice Robert Cordy today, quoting a court ruling from 1975. "If the plaintiffs’ right to equal protection of the laws has been violated," continued the Justice, "then it is our duty to say so...Fiscal considerations alone cannot justify a State's invidious discrimination against aliens."

The ruling came in response to a class action lawsuit, Dorothy Ann Finch & others v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority. The suit was brought on behalf of tens of thousands of legal, taxpaying immigrants by Health Law Advocates, with the support of groups ranging from Health Care for All (HCA) to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). These groups successfully argued that immigrants, most of whom had received their green cards less than five years ago, were unjust victims of the state's budget crisis.

“This is a major victory for legal immigrants in the commonwealth, no question about it. It vindicates their constitutional right to equal protection,” said Matt Selig, executive director of Health Law Advocates, in a story by the State House News Service. “Our expectation is the legislature will provide the funding to enable them to enroll in Commonwealth Care.”

After these immigrants were cut from Commonwealth Care in 2009, Governor Patrick worked with the legislature to create the Commonwealth Care Bridge program, which offered fewer services and higher out-of-pocket expenses than Commonwealth Care. The number of immigrants covered by Bridge has dwindled since its creation, as Bridge has remained closed to new applicants. Today's ruling should restore Commonwealth Care coverage to all of them, a figure totaling approximately 40,000 legal, taxpaying immigrants who are subject to many of the same obligations as citizens, including registration with Selective Service.

"We remain very appreciative of Governor Patrick for initially creating the Bridge program," said Eva Millona, Executive Director of the MIRA Coalition. "But we are thrilled today that the Supreme Court has agreed that all residents should have the same access to coverage, for which we are all paying taxes.This is a victory not only for individual immigrants, but for anyone who believes in universal health care and in equality under the law."

"The legislature has anticipated this decision, and we are confident they will appropriate the necessary funds," wrote Brian Rossman today on Health Care for All's blog. "HCFA gratefully thanks our partners at HLA, headed by Lorianne Sainsbury-Wong, and our board member Wendy Parmet of Northeasetern Law School who headed the legal team, for their magnificent, tenacious advocacy."

Ms. Millona concurred, saying,."MIRA extends its deepest gratitude to the team at  Health Law Advocates, to everyone at Health Care for All, and to all the other organizations that have worked so hard on this momentous step forward. We join them in applauding  the court for once again making Massachusetts a leader in health coverage, and for taking this important step toward truly equitable treatment for all state residents."

 

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