Mass. Supreme Court: Universal Healthcare Includes Legal Immigrants Too

The state's highest court has ruled that Massachusetts cannot prevent legal immigrants from enrolling in the state's subsidized health care program.

By Jorge Rivas Jan 05, 2012

Today, in a unanimous decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that if you call something universal then it’s gonna include legal immigrants too. The court ruled the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of legal immigrants were violated when the state stripped them of their health care coverage in 2009.

Massachusetts rolled out its "universal" healthcare plan in 2006–basically mandating people to sign up for state-subsidized or private insurance–but cut legal immigrants off from their program, Commonwealth Care, when the budget crisis hit. The Legislature voted in 2009 to block immigrants from the program to save money.

The court’s decision today reiterates 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."

"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."

"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," said Eva Millona, Executive Director of the MIRA Coalition, an organization that works on immigrant rights was involved in the case. 

The ruling came in response to a class action lawsuit, Dorothy Ann Finch & others v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, below are details of the case the defendants, as presented in a press release from MIRA:

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 victory not only for individual immigrants, but for anyone who believes in universal health care and in equality under the law," Millona went on to say in a press release.