BOSTON — Immigrant and healthcare advocates today applauded the Massachusetts Supreme Court for ruling that the exclusion of immigrants from the state's universal healthcare program was likely a violation of "equal protection obligations" under law. Said Matt Selig, Executive Director of Health Law Advocates (HLA), "This ruling makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Commonwealth to defend the exclusion of about 40,000 legal immigrants from receiving the same access to coverage as every other Massachusetts resident."
The ruling came in response to a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of immigrants by HLA, with the support of groups ranging from Health Care for All (HCA) to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). These groups claimed that the state unconstitutionally excluded a class of legal immigrants from access to the state's universal healthcare coverage program, Commonwealth Care. These immigrants, most of whom had received their green cards less than five years ago, were cut from the program by the legislature in the summer of 2009, victims of the state's initial budget crisis. In response, Governor Patrick worked with the legislature to created the Commonwealth Care Bridge program, which offered fewer services and higher out-of-pocket expenses than regular Commonwealth Care. The number of immigrants covered by Bridge has winnowed to about 19,000, but another 20,000 have since been shut out of any state sponsored healthcare coverage whatsoever, as Bridge has remained closed to new applicants.
"We remain very appreciative of Governor Patrick for creating the Bridge program, without which tens of thousands of legal taxpaying immigrants would have completely lost their healthcare coverage," said Eva Millona, Executive Director of the MIRA Coalition. "But we are thrilled today that the Supreme Court has signaled their basic agreement with our contention that all residents should have the same access to coverage, for which we are all paying taxes.The right to equal protection, like all constitutional rights, cannot be made contingent upon funding questions.This is a victory not only for individual immigrants, but for anyone who believes in universal health care and in equality under the law."
In a public statement, Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director of HCA, also hailed the court's ruling.
"We applaud the Supreme Judicial Court's decision today to uphold our core value as a Commonwealth that all legal residents of Massachusetts deserve equal access to health care," she said. "We call on the Legislature and Governor to carry out the decision quickly and fairly to restore Commonwealth Care benefits to approximately 40,000 people who the Court found were denied equal protection."
Ms. Millona concluded,."MIRA extends its deepest gratitude to HLA, HCA, and the many other organizations who 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."