Immigrants sue after being excluded from state healthcare coverage

For thousands of legal immigrants in Massachusetts, their American dream comes without healthcare coverage. In protest, yesterday several people filed a lawsuit against the state citing their exclusion from state-subsidized health coverage as being unconstitutional.

The controversy began last summer, when state lawmakers axed $130 million in funding for health insurance for legal immigrants to balance the budget, affecting approximately 26,000 people. Later, the Massachusetts legislature backed down and gave back about one-third of the funding, offering immigrants pared back healthcare plans with steeper co-payments for medication and other treatments. Additionally, legislators capped enrollment, which to date has shut out 8,000 more eligible legal immigrants.

With many legal immigrants in Massachusetts affected by this health coverage exclusion, the lawsuit contends Massachusetts's Connector Authority and its executive director, John Kingsdale, disregarded their right to equal protection under the state and federal constitution. Lawyers for the immigrants calculate the state's savings at over $80 million.

"You can't violate people's constitutional rights just because you don't have the funds," said Matt Selig, executive director of Health Law Advocates, a Boston-based public interest law firm helping the immigrants with the case.

Massachusetts lawmakers argue the decision was not an easy one, but that legal immigrants cost the state more to insure, because the federal government pays less for their care than for U.S. citizens.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, contends that while the situation is not enviable, immigrants cannot legally sue the Legislature.

"These people are their neighbors, they pay taxes, they are part of the fabric," Millona says. "But they are being separated because of their immigrant status."

To learn more about the lawsuit:
- read this Boston Globe article