MD Court Sides with Immigrants on Medicaid Benefits

October 12, 2006 ( - Maryland's highest court has upheld an injunction blocking officials from cutting the Medicaid benefits to almost 3,000 children and pregnant women who are recent immigrants.

While the Maryland Court of Appeals judges sided in part with the legal immigrants, they also said it was wrong for aMontgomery County judge to award retroactive benefits because the case hasn’t been settled, the Associated Press reported.

With the benefit cutbacks blocked, the ruling means the immigrants will keep their health care coverage while the courts decide if abolishing the Medicaid program would be unconstitutional under state law.

The news report said that the case began in 2005, when Governor Robert Ehrlich’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 and prompted the immigrants’ lawsuit.

Although the federal government stopped funding for health care for legal immigrants who have been in the US for less than five years in 1996,Maryland had opted to pay for it completely with state funds.

State lawyers argued thatMaryland was now free to drop the coverage to save money because the Medicaid coverage wasn’t required by the federal government. Judge Glenn Harrell Jr, in writing for the court, asserted that the question has not been settled even though 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 prohibiting the cut.

Ehrlich’s Medicaid cut drew sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers, and Ehrlich later restored $1.5 million to continue care for pregnant women already enrolled in the program. This year, Ehrlich signed a bill requiring future governors to budget $3 million for health care for pregnant women and children who have been in theUnited States less than five years.

The ruling in the Court of Appeals case is   here .