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Immigrants Sue Mass. Over Denial Of Subsidized Health Care

BOSTON — A group of legal immigrants is suing the state over a law that bans them from having a state-subsidized health insurance program.

The lawsuit filed Thursday says the 2009 law is unconstitutional, violating equal protection clauses in both state and federal constitutions.

The law canceled Commonwealth Care for 26,000 legal immigrants last year and made 8,000 new applicants ineligible. The state provided replacement coverage for those who had already been enrolled in Commonwealth Care. The change was aimed at cutting $90 million from the state budget.

Immigrant advocates say the replacement coverage is inadequate and that people are suffering.

“We know that resources are limited, but the bottom line is the constitution requires that both of these groups — citizens and legal immigrants — need to be treated equally under this program,” said Matt Selig, executive director of the Boston non-profit law firm Health Law Advocates, which is helping with the case.

“Because of the state’s policy, thousands of immigrants have gone without needed care, have had to pay much more for their care and have had to change doctors and had to see health care providers that don’t know anything about their health situation,” Selig said.

Four plaintiffs are named in the suit, but Selig said lawyers will ask the state supreme court to make the lawsuit a class action.

When the law in question was drafted in 2009, state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers were not targeting immigrants. He said legal immigrants are significantly more expensive for the state to insure because they do not qualify for matching federal subsidies.

Panagiotakos’s office had no comment on the lawsuit Thursday, since the senator had not seen it yet.

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