Court: Legal immigrants get health coverage

January 20, 2012
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Legal immigrants cannot be removed from the state’s low-income subsidized health insurance plan, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Jan. 5, ordering the state to restore a $150 million budget cut.

Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez said the decision “validated” his longstanding concern that the cuts violated the state constitution.

“I’m happy and excited,” Sánchez said. “A number of us were saying, ‘How can you separate one group from another?’”

Legal immigrants are eligible for many of the rights and responsibilities of full citizens. But in 2009, state legislators cut a certain class of legal immigrants who have lived here five years or less from the Commonwealth Care subsidized health insurance program. An estimated 40,000 residents were affected.

“I think it was desperation on the part of budget-writers,” said Sanchez, adding that it likely was assumed that legal immigrants would have few advocates.

Gov. Deval Patrick created a “Bridge” program that restored limited benefits to legal immigrants already enrolled.

In the case Finch v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, the court decided that the cuts illegally deprived the legal immigrants of equal protection under the law.

Now the state must figure out how to restore the funding. Sánchez said he is “curious” to see what that solution will be.

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