New Jersey high court backs denial of Medicaid benefits to legal immigrants

     New Jersey Supreme Court justices listen to arguments in January. The court has ruled New Jersey did not break the law when it eliminated state-funded Medicaid benefits for legal immigrants who have been in the country  fewer than five years. (AP file photo)

    New Jersey Supreme Court justices listen to arguments in January. The court has ruled New Jersey did not break the law when it eliminated state-funded Medicaid benefits for legal immigrants who have been in the country fewer than five years. (AP file photo)

    The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled legal immigrants who have been living in the state for fewer than five years can be excluded from Medicaid.

    From 2005 through 2010, New Jersey extended Medicaid health insurance to all low-income legal immigrants, expecting the move would cut down on unnecessary, costly emergency room visits.

    But facing a budget crunch, state lawmakers revoked the coverage, affecting 12,000 adults who didn’t meet the five-year residency requirement.

    Immigrants’ rights groups sued.

    “We argued that the state was violating the requirement of equal protection and, essentially, discriminating against immigrants solely because they are immigrants — treating them differently from citizens for the purpose of cost savings, which under longstanding precedent violates the guarantees of equal protection,” said Jenny-Brooke Condon, director of Seton Hall Law School’s Equal Justice Clinic.

    The state’s high court, however, agreed with a 2013 lower court ruling that the decision didn’t violate the federal or state constitutions.

    “It’s a decision that’s unfair,” said Condon, who is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Lawful residents contribute to the state’s tax coffers … help fund the very benefits that they are being denied.” 

    Lawyers for the state declined to comment.

    The reduction in Medicaid benefits was projected to save New Jersey nearly $50 million over two years.

     

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