Court sides with immigrants on Medicaid

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by Kristen Wyatt, AP, 12 Oct 2006

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland may not cut off Medicaid benefits to needy pregnant women and children who are legal immigrants until the constitutionality of the move is tested in the courts, the state's highest court ruled Thursday.

The court unanimously upheld an injunction blocking the state from cutting benefits to almost 3,000 recipients, all legal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for less than five years.

The Court of Appeals decision means the benefits will continue while the courts decide whether the cutoff violated Maryland's constitution.

"We're extremely happy," said Regan Bailey, a Legal Aid Bureau lawyer for the immigrant group.

The case began in 2005, when Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration removed recent immigrants from Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and children as a way to trim the state budget by $7 million.

Maryland had begun paying for the benefits for pregnant women and children with state funds when the federal government cut off federal Medicaid money for recent immigrants in 1996. After they are in the country for five years, legal immigrants are still covered under the federal Medicaid program.

State lawyers argued that Maryland was free to drop the coverage to save money last year since it wasn't required by the federal government.

But Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr., writing for five of the seven judges, said that 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 for now.

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