State Supreme Court Arguments Over State Health Benefits For Legal Aliens

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Legal Aid lawyers Tuesday will ask the state Supreme Court to require Connecticut to continue health benefits for poor, disabled, or elderly legal immigrants.

The case is HONG PHAM v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SERVICES, SC 18582.

Greater Hartford Legal Aid attorney Nicholas Yorio says the US Constitution grants equal protection to both citizens and legal aliens.

Yorio says the 4,800 immigrants should have the same opportunity to receive the same health benefit as citizens.  Citizens can be eligible for Medicaid.

“In a number of cases starting in 1886, [the supreme court] found that because the protections extend to ‘persons’ aliens are entitled to look to the protections of the equal protection clause,” Yorio said.

Yorio says many of the legal aliens are stuck in a waiting period, before becoming citizens.

“They have to wait 5-years before they can apply for citizenship,” Yorio said.  “In this 5-year period, they are here as legal non-citizens, they live, they work, they pay taxes, including those that fund the programs.”

Yorio says illegal immigrants are not part of the lawsuit.

The state eliminated healthcare coverage for the immigrants to save money in December of 2009, but in January of 2010, a lower court ordered the State Medical Assistance for Non-Citizens benefits to continue.

The benefit is expected to cost the state about $9.75-million, in state fiscal year 2011, according to the state Department of Social Services.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services declined to be interviewed, because the case is still in court.

Hong Pham is a woman with an ongoing medical problem, which Yorio declined to name.

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