- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland’s highest court yesterday sided in part with legal immigrants who sued to block the state from cutting their health care benefits.

The court unanimously upheld an injunction blocking the state from cutting the Medicaid benefits to almost 3,000 children and pregnant women who are recent immigrants.

But the judges said it was wrong for a Montgomery County judge to award retroactive benefits because the case hasn’t been settled.

The Court of Appeals decision means the immigrants will keep their health care coverage while the courts decide whether Maryland violates its constitution by abolishing the program.

“We’re extremely happy,” said Regan Bailey, a Legal Aid Bureau attorney for the immigrant group.

The case began last year, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration removed almost 3,000 children from health care coverage under the Medicaid program.

The move was made to save $7 million in the state budget. A group of immigrants sued over the change.

The federal government stopped providing funding for health care for legal immigrants who have been in the country for less than five years in 1996, but Maryland decided to continue the program and pay for it entirely with state funds.

State attorneys argued that Maryland was free to drop the coverage because it wasn’t required by the federal government.

That question has not been settled, though Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr., writing for five of the seven judges, said the state “failed to justify” the decision to cut the money.

The opinion also said that immigrants were “likely” to win their case, justifying an injunction barring the cut.

Attorneys for the state did not react to the ruling.

Mr. Ehrlich’s Medicaid cut drew sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers, and the governor, a Republican seeking reelection, later restored $1.5 million to continue care for pregnant women enrolled in the program.

This year, Mr. Ehrlich signed a bill requiring future governors to budget $3 million for health care for pregnant women and children who have been in the United States less than five years. After five years, legal immigrants are covered under the federal Medicaid program.


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