State eliminating medical assistance program, 2 years after it was cut

Nearly 4,900 residents will lose their public health care coverage next month when the state eliminates a medical assistance program that lawmakers axed in 2009. The program was later reinstatated under a court order.

The State Medical Assistance for Noncitizens program covers legal noncitizens who meet the criteria for Medicaid but have not been in the country long enough to receive it. Since 1996, the federal government has barred states from providing Medicaid to noncitizens who have been in the U.S. fewer than five years.

Lawmakers cut the program in 2009 and the state Department of Social Services eliminated it that November. But attorneys with Greater Hartford Legal Aid filed a class action lawsuit, arguing that the cut violated the Equal Protection clauses of the state and U.S. constitutions by discriminating against recipients because they are noncitizens. Superior Court Judge Grant Miller agreed, ruling in December 2009 that parts of the law were unconstitutional. He issued an injunction and the state reinstated the program.

But the state Supreme Court disagreed, and in a unanimous ruling earlier this year, ordered the trial court to rule for the state. The court found that law eliminating the medical assistance program did not distinguish between citizens and noncitizens because the program only serves noncitizens.

About 20 people who are in nursing homes or receive long-term home care coverage through the program will be allowed to keep their coverage. Pregnant women and people under 21 are not subject to the 5-year residency requirement for Medicaid and should not lose coverage when the program is eliminated.

People losing coverage have been notified that they could participate in the Charter Oak Health Plan–if they can afford the premiums–and an AIDS drug assistance program if they need it, according to the state Department of Social Services.