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Federal Decisions, Lawsuits Entangling States Over Health Insurance

Ernie Shannon's picture

While the Obama Administration and more than 20 state attorneys general gear up for a donnybrook of a Supreme Court hearing in late March concerning the nation’s new health care law, state legislatures around the country are dealing with the “here and now.”

State Supreme Court Strikes Down Massachusetts Provision

In 2009, the Massachusetts state legislature removed thousands of legal immigrants from a taxpayer-subsidized state-run insurance program in an effort to save the state millions of dollars. Governor Deval Patrick initially opposed the move, but later negotiated with legislators to craft a smaller healthcare plan that kept some of the legal immigrants covered. At that time, the revised plan was expected to cost the state $40 million, about a third of what a full coverage plan would have cost.

However, yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled the new healthcare plan violated the immigrants’ constitutional rights, according to a Lowellsun.com report. In the decision, the Massachusetts judges admitted the ruling could pose a heavy financial burden on the state.

“The discrimination against legal immigrants . . . violates their rights to equal protection under the Massachusetts Constitution,” Justice Robert Cordy wrote for the court in a unanimous ruling. “We recognize that our decision will impose a significant financial burden on the Commonwealth . . . If the plaintiffs’ right to equal protection of the laws has been violated by the enactment, then it is our duty to say so.”

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Beginning in 2010, more than 26,000 legal immigrants were enrolled in the state-run insurance program, but that figure dropped to around 14,000 with the implementation of the new, more restrictive provisions. Immigration advocates, civil liberty groups, and healthcare consumer groups support the plaintiffs’ action especially after learning that another consideration of the legislators’ action involved the desire to “further immigration policies that discourage illegal immigration and promote self-sufficiency among aliens.” The court rejected that argument.

Oklahoma Request to “Phase” in Healthcare Provision Rejected

Oklahoma will not be given additional time to meet federal standards related to premium expenditures. The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected the state’s request to gradually allow healthcare companies to meet new regulations requiring them to spend 80 percent of the premiums they collect on healthcare.

State Insurance Commissioner John Doak argued that meeting 80 percent threshold immediately was prohibitive and he asked for a phasing in of the requirement over several years. Nevertheless, the federal agency turned down that suggestion with officials saying they cold find no evidence that smaller carriers would be harmed and that the law would disrupt the individual insurance market in Oklahoma.

ACLU Sues Michigan Over Same-Sex Couple Benefits Decision

Michigan is facing a lawsuit over the state legislature’s decision to deny health insurance coverage to some domestic partners. In a Clickon Detroit story, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this week claiming the law violates the constitutional rights of four same-sex couples in and around the Ann Arbor area. The individuals work for the Ann Arbor schools, the city of Kalamazoo, and Ingham County.

The ACLU claims there is no compelling interest in denying benefits for domestic partners when heterosexual partners get the same perks. Supporters, however, say the law saves tax dollars and follows the spirit of a statewide vote in 2004 in which Michigan residents defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.