Since Massachusetts enacted its historic health care reform law in 2006, HLA has been a statewide leader in advocacy to make sure this extraordinary legislative achievement, the model for national health care reform, is working as intended to improve access to health care for low-income individuals and families. We have provided free legal representation to hundreds of low-income clients improperly denied benefits created by the 2006 law since it was implemented. Over the past several years, HLA has also helped lead a dynamic coalition of advocacy organizations that fights for public policies to preserve our state’s pioneering effort to expand comprehensive health insurance coverage to all residents. However, in 2011 we made our most extraordinary impact in saving health care reform for vulnerable health care consumers.
Finch v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority
Commonwealth Care has been called the centerpiece of health care reform in Massachusetts. It provides comprehensive health insurance coverage for nearly 200,000 low-income adults. But in 2009, lawmakers prohibited approximately 40,000 low-income legal immigrants from participating in Commonwealth Care even though they are law-abiding, tax-paying residents of Massachusetts. This action left thousands of these immigrants with no health insurance at all while some were allowed to enroll in a “separate but unequal” health plan with fewer benefits, fewer doctors and higher costs.
HLA would not let this discriminatory policy that left a stain on our historic health care reform law stand. We filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the 40,000 low-income legal immigrants to protect their right to equal protection under the law and to enroll in Commonwealth Care. The tireless work of our litigation team leading up to and throughout 2011 led to a landmark decision by Massachusetts’ highest court overturning the law excluding legal immigrants from Commonwealth Care. The ruling preserved the right to equal protection under the law for legal immigrants and allowed tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents to obtain health insurance and, therefore, access to health care.
HLA, in collaboration with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP as pro bono co-counsel, initially filed this historic case, Finch v. Connector Authority, in February 2010. In May 2011, after more than a year of litigation, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) declared in a dramatic ruling in our clients’ favor that the Massachusetts Constitution guarantees legal immigrants the right to equal protection under the law and that state laws that differentiate between citizens and non-citizens must pass the strictest test of judicial scrutiny. But, the case wasn’t over yet. HLA still had to convince the SJC to overturn the state law that excluded legal immigrants from Commonwealth Care. On October 6, 2011, the high court held oral arguments on whether this discriminatory law was unconstitutional. HLA board member Wendy Parmet argued the case brilliantly on behalf of the class of immigrants we represented. In the first week of 2012, the SJC declared the state law excluding legal immigrants from Commonwealth Care unconstitutional providing HLA’s clients with the invaluable gifts of equality under law and access to health care.
The case of Finch v. Connector Authority and HLA’s devotion to it 2011 are prime examples of how HLA leads the way in fighting for health care justice.