A Hartford Superior Court Judge ruled last week that the state must continue offering health insurance to an estimated 4,823 legal immigrants, while the Department of Social Services appeals the decision.
Last month Hartford Superior Court Judge Grant H. Miller ruled in favor of the class of legal immigrants seeking to keep their state-sponsored medical benefits. Miller agreed with Greater Hartford Legal Aid attorneys who argued that ending the program violated the equal protection clause of both the state and federal constitutions.
But after the injunction was granted no action was taken by the state to make sure the program continued, Susan Garten, an attorney representing the class of immigrants, said Monday.
Then, last week, on Jan. 8 Miller denied the state’s motion for a stay in the case and the state got to work reinstating the program.
The state really should have been offering the program immediately after Miller’s Dec. 18 decision, Garten, a Greater Hartford Legal Aid attorney, said. She said it’s unfortunate the state didn’t immediately send out notices to those already enrolled in the program because they may have forgone medical attention in the interim.
She said she hopes the message that the program still exists gets out there because those attempting to sign up for the program for the first time were turned away.
A spokesman for the Department of Social Services, which administers the program, said the agency taken steps to reinstate the program and open it up to new applicants.
In addition to re-opening the program it will be sending out notices to participants and doctors to let them know medical coverage for those enrolled will be reinstated retroactively to Dec. 1, 2009.
Most of the program, mainly the state-funded portion, had been discontinued as the state looked for ways to plug the budget deficit.
“This is a difficult and unpleasant situation brought on by the state budget crisis,” DSS Commissioner Michael Starkowski wrote in a letter last month o social service providers. “DSS as an executive branch agency has no choice but to administer this mandated change as expeditiously and effectively as possible.”
There were some groups, such as refugees and pregnant women under the age of 21 who continued to receive care under the program even though most of the State Medical Assistance for Non-Citizens program had been discontinued. It was Democratic lawmakers who decided to continue to fund these exempt groups because of the matching federal reimbursement.
Reinstating the entire program is estimated to cost the state about $14 million per year.
It’s unclear how long the state’s appeal may take, but Garten said it’s likely the state Supreme Court will take it up once all the briefs in the case are filed.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office defended the state in the case, warned Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in July that eliminating the program could raise “significant constitutional issues and concerns.”
Blumenthal wrote that in 2004 that he wrote an official opinion stating that eliminating the program is “not clearly unconstitutional,” but would raise “serious constitutional issues in litigation, and the outcome could not be predicted with certainty.”
In that letter Blumenthal said he would defend the state against any action brought against it. “My duty is to defend the laws approved by the legislature and signed by the governor when they are challenged, and I will do so here if the SMANC program is eliminated,” Blumenthal wrote.