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BREAKING: Victory! Mass Supreme Judical Court Rules in Favor of Coverage for Legal Immigrants

BREAKING: Victory! Mass Supreme Judical Court Rules in Favor of Coverage for Legal Immigrants

January 5, 2012

The SJC just issued their opinion in Finch v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, the case brought by Health Law Advocates contesting the denial of full Commonwealth Care benefits to legal immigrants who did not qualify for federal Medicaid reimbursement. The unanimous decision (link) requires the state to reinstate full coverage for all legal immigrants.

This will restore coverage for over 40,000 [update: we think it's around 37,400] legal immigrants. Most are uninsured, with access to some care through the Health Safety Net program. The remainder are in the Commonwealth Care Bridge program, which features fewer benefits and member higher costs than regular Commonwealth Care.

The court's decision is unambiguous: "The discrimination against legal immigrants that its [the state law's] limiting language embodies violates their rights to equal protection under the Massachusetts Constitution."

The decision will require the state to appropriate additional funds to comply with the decision. The court recognizes this, but understands that under our state constitution, financial concerns are not an excuse for discrimination:

We recognize that our decision will impose a significant financial burden on the Commonwealth. See Finch, supra at 675. Nonetheless, "the fiscal consequences of any . . . judgment on the merits cannot be permitted to intrude on consideration of the case before us. . . . '[M]inorities rely on the independence of the courts to secure their constitutional rights against incursions of the majority, operating through the political branches of government.'" Id., quoting Commonwealth v. O'Neal, [citation omitted]. If the plaintiffs' right to equal protection of the laws has been violated by the enactment of § 31, then it is our duty to say so.

The legislature has anticipated this decision, and we are confident they will appropriate the necessary funds.

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.
-Brian Rosman