HARTFORD (CN) – When the Connecticut General Assembly approved the state budget in September it killed the State Medical Assistance For Non-Citizens program and left more than 3,000 poor legal immigrants without health insurance. A Superior Court class action claims that offering such programs to native-born citizens while refusing them to legal immigrants who have been in the country for less than 5 years violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause.
When a similar federally funded program for legal immigrants ended in 1997, Connecticut decided to continue funding its program, despite the loss of matching federal funds.
Lead plaintiff in this case is Hong Pham, who emigrated from Vietnam in September 2005 and has lived in Connecticut since 2007. She was notified on Nov. 20 that her state health care benefits would end on Dec. 1.
Pham left California for Connecticut in 2007 to escape her abusive husband and since arriving has been unable to find employment, she says.
She has hepatitis B and must have regular laboratory tests to assess her liver function. She has a handful of other health problems that require regular medical attention. She lives on $470 a month, plus a $325 food stamp allotment, “and cannot afford to pay for her necessary medical care,” according to the complaint.
Her attorneys with Greater Hartford Legal Aid seek class certification and an injunction.
Their case may be helped by the comments of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who in July wrote a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell warning her that killing 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.
Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Starkowski responded that “this is a difficult and unpleasant situation brought on by the state budget crisis.”