HLA's Immigrant Health Care Access Initiative addresses health care barriers, especially uninsurance, facing low-income immigrants through legal assistance, outreach and education and the formation of a coalition to identify and address systemic access barriers. At this time, the Initiative focuses on parts of Greater Boston with high Immigrant populations. Lacking health insurance has terrible consequences. A 2014 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that in the four years after health reform was implemented in Massachusetts, mortatily rates dropped 3%. A 2012 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation study found that 45% of Massachusetts residents who were ever uninsured in the past year had financial problems due to health care costs and 73% of that group cut back on health care as a result. Census data show high uninsurance rates among immigrants in the primary target areas for this initiative: 18.4% of non-U.S. citizens in Suffolk County, 18% of non-U.S. citizens in Essex County and 14% of non-U.S. citizens in Middlesex County are uninsured. Though the Initiative focuses primarily in these regions, HLA can still assist low-income immigrants from all other areas of Massachusetts.
Our Immigrant Health Care Access Initiative builds on HLA's historic class action lawsuit Finch v. Connector Authority which secured insurance for tens of thousands of low-income immigrants in Massachusetts.
On January 5, 2012, in a case filed by Health Law Advocates (HLA), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled unanimously that a state law barring 40,000 low-income legal immigrants from the state’s Commonwealth Care program is unconstitutional and must be struck down. Read the full decision here.
The suit, Finch v. Connector Authority, filed by HLA on behalf of tens of thousands of low-income Massachusetts legal immigrants in February 2010, challenged the constitutionality of a state law passed in 2009 eliminating access to Commonwealth Care for legal immigrants who had been in the U.S. for less than five years. Massachusetts’ historic health reform law passed in 2006 allowed legal immigrants who met eligibility requirements to obtain health insurance through the Commonwealth Care program.
In its unanimous and historic January ruling, the SJC asserted that legal immigrants are entitled to equal protection under the state constitution. Wendy Parmet, a member of HLA’s Board of Directors and a Northeastern University School of Law professor argued the case for HLA. As a result of the ruling, Massachusetts’ state legislature allocated the additional budgetary resources to the state’s Commonwealth Care program to meet its constitutional obligations.
“Fiscal considerations alone cannot justify a State's invidious discrimination against aliens,” notes the ruling. “The discrimination against legal immigrants that its limiting language embodies violates their rights to equal protection under the Massachusetts constitution.”