State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has sent a letter to Governor Rell and legislative leaders raising questions over the constitutionality of paring back a healthcare program for 6000 legal immigrants in Connecticut.
The Governor's budget proposal eliminates funding for the State Medical Assistance Program for Non- Citizens. The program receives no federal dollars. It was created in 1997 for permanent legal residents who have lived in the U.S for less than five years. Rell's proposal, which makes an exception for non-citizens who need emergency care, would save the state $48 million dollars over two years. Under federal rules, permanent legal residents living here for more than five years can receive benefits through Medicaid and Husky Parts A and B.
But Attorney General Blumenthal says any proposal that limits funding could open Connecticut up to legal challenges. He says there's precedence that the idea violates equal protection rights.
"An elimination of the state funded medical assistance in Maryland was held to be unconstitutional b/c a federal program provided the same kind of medical assistance to citizens. So the Maryland decision provides support to anyone challenging action by the Legislature eliminating this critical medical assistance for legal non-citizens."
The Democrats latest budget proposal restores half of the program's funding to only cover routine care for pregnant women and children. House Speaker Donovan was unavailable to comment on Blumenthal's letter. The Governor's budget office says it's not clear there would be any problem implementing the proposed changes.
3 dozen community groups who serve immigrants in Connecticut have also sent letters to Rell and the Legislature asking that the money be fully restored.
The same debate just ended last month in Massachusetts. Its legislature voted to restore some state aid to a program that provides healthcare to legal immigrants. Originally all the funds were cut to help the Bay State's budget deficit.