Colorado Rights Blog


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ACLU Sues to Stop Colorado's Planned April 1 Cutoff of Medical Assistance to Legal Immigrants


Mar 27, 2003

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado (ACLU) announced today the filing of a class action lawsuit in federal court to challenge Senate Bill 176, a new Colorado law that cuts off medical assistance to about 3500 legal immigrants who are currently covered and who cannot afford to pay for their own medical care. The suit asks the Court to invalidate the law and to issue an emergency temporary restraining order before thousands of class members lose their medical assistance on April 1.


According to the lawsuit, the Colorado statute violates the Constitution by discriminating against legal immigrants who qualify for medical assistance under federal law. The suit also alleges that in their haste to implement the new provision, Colorado officials have failed to follow legally-required procedures to ensure that individuals who remain eligible even under the new restrictions are not mistakenly cut off.


The controversial budget-cutting measure passed the Colorado legislature on March 5, and Governor Owens signed it into law the same day. The law terminates Medicaid coverage for legal immigrants who are dependent on assistance for essential medical and nursing home services while continuing to provide benefits to citizens who are in the very same financial straits. Medicaid is a federal program jointly funded by federal and state funds. The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers the state's Medicaid program, instructed county agencies to implement the cutoffs in just 26 days.

"The new law singles out sick and elderly legal immigrants who desperately depend on this assistance for vital medical care," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that this kind of discrimination against legal immigrants is a direct violation of the Constitution. States simply do not have the power to save money by adopting their own restrictions that punish legal immigrants who are entitled to live here and who qualify for assistance under federal law."


"There is only one reason why the legislature has singled out this group of vulnerable Colorado residents for such cold-hearted treatment: their immigration status," Silverstein continued. "Under the Equal Protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment, Colorado cannot engage in that kind of discrimination."


"Colorado has acted in disregard of its constitutional obligations by attempting to abolish Medicaid benefits for legal immigrants who are eligible for the program under federal law," said Gregory Piche of Holland & Hart, who filed the lawsuit as an ACLU volunteer attorney. "We will ask the Court for an emergency order to preserve our clients' access to vital and essential medical care."


The suit names eight legal immigrants as plaintiffs, many of whom are elderly, disabled, recovering from strokes, and suffering from a variety of severe and chronic medical conditions that require regular prescription medication that soon will be cut off. Four of the plaintiffs currently live in nursing homes, and some have already been served with eviction notices in anticipation of the funding cutoff. Additional plaintiffs are totally dependent on home care services that will end next week if the scheduled cutoffs are implemented. According to the suit, the class of immigrants who will be affected by Senate Bill 176 numbers in the thousands.


The lawsuit further alleges that state officials have failed to follow federal law in determining how to apply the new law to individual cases. According to the ACLU, state officials have failed to carry out the legally-required careful analysis of each individual case to determine if individuals remain eligible for benefits under exceptions to the new law. "In their frantic efforts to cut off medical assistance in such a short time, Colorado officials are undoubtedly sending termination notices to individuals who continue to remain eligible even under the discriminatory terms of Senate Bill 176," Piche said. "In addition, state officials are violating procedural rules and failing to inform individuals of their right to an appeal. Wholly independent of the unconstitutional nature of the law, Colorado cannot summarily terminate individuals from Medicaid in the way it is trying to do here."


In addition to Piche and Silverstein, the legal team staffing the lawsuit, Soskin v. Reinertson, includes attorneys from the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project, the National Immigration Law Center, the Welfare Law Center, and the National Health Law Project.


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