Summer 2020
The Docket
What's Inside:
  • Responding to COVID-19

  • Special Appreciation to the Grand Sponsor of HLA's 25th Annual Benefit Breakfasat

  • HLA Launches a Medical-Legal Partnership for Immigrants

  • A Client's Success Story Followed by Gracious Feedback

  • HLA Staff News

  • A Big Thank You to...

  • Cy Pres Awards Can Support Health Care Justice
Dear Friends,

We hope you and those close to you are faring as well as can be expected in these hard times.

This year is HLA's 25th Anniversary. As we reach this milestone, we express our gratitude to all those who have helped us serve people across Massachusetts for a quarter century and those who we've had the privilege to serve.

We are very proud of the work we have done with all of you to assist people in exercising their right to affordable health care. By doing so, we've improved the quality of life for countless people together.

While our Silver Anniversary is a happy occasion for HLA, and I hope you as well, we're focusing our attention on what we can do to help people through the pandemic by ensuring they can access the health care they need.

Below, we are pleased to share some of these efforts with you.

With appreciation,

Matt Selig
Executive Director
Responding to COVID-19
Over the past several months, we have been inspired by the efforts of so many in our health care system to protect each other's health during the pandemic and help us gradually recover. However, we are deeply concerned with the racial, ethnic and citizenship status disparities in the impact of COVID-19.
The pandemic is far from over and, for many people, health care access has become much more difficult. As a result, HLA's mission is more important than ever. Access saves lives.
Here are ways HLA is stepping up during this unprecedented time:
Health Insurance Enrollment and Benefits

Helping consumers in low income situations keep or gain comprehensive health coverage and receive stronger benefits, particularly the increasing number relying on MassHealth, is one of our top priorities during the pandemic. Promoting health insurance coverage and access to health care are key to our state's ability to treat those with COVID-19 and to prevent its spread.

We are engaging regularly with state officials, who have been responsive in many ways to the needs of consumers that we, and other advocates we collaborate with, are raising.
Disparities in Health Care to Treat COVID-19

We played a key role in the successful efforts of a coalition of advocates who pressed for changes in state policy, agreed to by policymakers, to prevent racial and disability discrimination in access to life-saving treatment for COVID-19. Our coalition, formed and led by our allies at the Center for Public Representation, continues to seek further safeguards to ensure equity in the allocation of health care resources. We want to ensure that these important state policies are equitable, especially because there is the potential that they will be implemented if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 this winter.
Medical Debt

With Massachusetts residents facing historically dire economic conditions due to COVID-19, HLA's work protecting our clients from medical debt is helping many families afford not only health care, but food and housing as well.

Amid the pandemic, “38% of people in the state are now food insecure.” This means that when many people receive health care bills, food, housing as well as health care become even more difficult to afford.

Medical debt also has a disparate impact by race and ethnicity. A February 2020 Data Brief from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that Black and Hispanic people are more likely to face problems with medical debt.

25% of HLA cases since March 1st involve a client with a medical bill they can’t afford and need our help to address. We regularly work with clients who should never have received medical bills in the first place. We also help numerous consumers apply for financial assistance programs offered by providers.

HLA has also been arguing in court to protect people from unaffordable medical debt.
In May, HLA Supervising Attorney Andrew Cohen argued in an online session of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, a case of first impression to protect the rights of our clients and others to assert defenses against unjust collection practices, a crucial right especially with rising poverty.   

In August, HLA's Legal Director Justin Lowe also fought to protect our clients from having to choose between paying for health care, food, or housing, by submitting legal arguments in court defending the state’s temporary ban on evictions.
Defending Immigrants' Rights to Access Health Care

At a time when it is vitally important for everyone to have unfettered access to health care, many immigrants do not feel safe entering the health care system because of discriminatory policies.

A study released in August on disparities in COVID-19 rates among Massachusetts communities, found that "(t)he proportion of foreign-born non-citizens was the strongest predictor of the burden of COVID-19 cases within a community." The study further asserts that barriers to health insurance and health care facing immigrants are leading causes of this disparity.

Amid this crisis, HLA launched its Medical-Legal Partnership for Immigrants (MLPI) in collaboration with The Rian Immigrant Center. This is our new initiative to expand our longstanding work helping immigrants in low-income circumstances enroll in health insurance, access health care and receive immigration law assistance. HLA's new Staff Attorney Kate Purrington is managing our MLPI and our incoming Equal Justice Works Fellow Alexandra Warren will soon join the MLPI team.

You can find more information about our MLPI and Kate and Alex below.
Mental Health Care for Youth

Our Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids (MHAP for Kids) is representing youth (more than 230 since March) with mental illness who are denied access to services amid the trauma of the pandemic. In June, the state's Childhood Trauma Task Force issued a report asserting that "(e)xisting racial, ethnic, and income disparities in our state are being further exacerbated by this pandemic, and the current pandemic-related trauma is compounding the high levels of trauma many children and families in these communities were already experiencing."

The report also stated that "we can expect an increase in children’s behavioral and mental health issues as well as lower academic performance—all of which could last well beyond this pandemic." MHAP for Kids was cited in the Task Force's report as a key intervention needed to counteract these stark findings.

MHAP for Kids certainly is working hard to respond to COVID-19, especially for the hardest hit families. Sixty-six percent of the children MHAP for Kids has served since March 1 identify as a person of color and 66% live in a city/town in the top 30 for highest COVID-19 rates.

Members of our MHAP for Kids team, Director/Managing Attorney Marisol Garcia and Senior Supervising Attorney Lisa Morrow, also created a nationally-recognized tool-kit for advocating for mental health services for children during COVID-19. MHAP for Kids attorneys are based around the state, in some of the communities hit hardest during the public health crisis. You can read more about MHAP for Kids in the program's recent edition of Helping Kids Go Places.
To learn learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on HLA's clients and our organization, check out our Slide Deck below:

HLA's 25th Anniversary Benefit Breakfast
Special Appreciation 
to our
Grand Patron Sponsor
Steve Rosenfeld & Margot Botsford
HLA and The Rian Immigrant Center Launch
a Medical-Legal Partnership for Immigrants
For many years, HLA has represented clients who are immigrants and have difficulty accessing health care. One impediment to health care for many immigrants is lack of health insurance coverage for the services they need. However, many immigrants are actually eligible for the coverage they need, but have been prevented from enrolling. HLA specializes in advocating for immigrants to get them into the best coverage possible.

Over the years, many of the immigrants we assisted were referred by health care providers including hospitals and health centers. So last year, we began establishing our Medical Legal Partnership for Immigrants (MLPI) program to systematize and expand our partnerships with health care providers to assist more immigrants, more efficiently.

At our 24th Annual Benefit Breakfast in November 2019, Partners Healthcare offered a $20,000 matching gift to help get our MLPI off the ground. In response, attendees at last year's Benefit Breakfast contributed an amazing additional $35,000 on the spot. This outpouring of support helped us secure additional support in 2020 in the form of grants from the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, The Clowes Fund, and The Massachusetts Bar Foundation.

This year, despite health care providers' need to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and transitioning to tele-health services, we have made significant progress establishing the MLPI.

Early in 2020, we joined with with one of our closest allies, The Rian Immigrant Center, to make the MLPI a joint effort to ensure that the program would offer both health care access law and immigration law service to clients referred by providers. Then, with special grants from The Fish Family Foundation and The Shapiro Foundation, we launched the first MLPI partnership with Boston Medical Center's Immigrant and Refugee Health Center. In July, HLA hired Kate Purrington as our Staff Attorney to manage the MLPI. In the remainder of 2020, we will work to bring the MLPI's services to other hospitals and community health centers as they transition into the "new normal."
A Client's Success Story Followed by Gracious Feedback
T.C. came to the United States on a student visa and is using her life savings to advance her education. T.C. is also employed as a food service worker to support herself. In February, T.C. wasn't feeling well with a pain in her chest and difficulty breathing. As a front-line service worker, T.C. became concerned she may have become infected with COVID-19. So, to protect herself and the customers she serves, she went to her local emergency room. There, she was diagnosed with the flu.

In June, T.C. received a bill for $569 from the hospital she visited for the emergency services. T.C. knew she had health insurance on the date of service so she called the HelpLine at HLA's partner organization Health Care For All (HCFA). HCFA referred the case to HLA. HLA's Senior Staff Attorney Wells Wilkinson and Paralegal/Intake Coordinator Shannon Sullivan investigated and determined that T.C. did go without comprehensive coverage for a period of time, but did have an active plan with full benefits on the date of service. T.C.'s employer does not provide coverage to her, so she purchased a plan from the Health Connector. After exhausting their investigation with the hospital's billing office and into T.C.'s enrollment, Wells and Shannon contacted T.C.'s health plan to determine why the claim was not covered. The health plan reported that the claim had been submitted after the deadline for submission established between the insurer and provider. Wells arranged a conference call with the health insurer and provider to discuss the information about the claim denial. As a result, the hospital wiped T.C.'s balance clear.

When we asked T.C. to provide feedback on our service, which we do with every client, she wrote:

"I got assistance from Wells Wilkinson, the most ethical and professional attorney I have ever met. I am a student spending all that I have saved for my whole life and I didn't, and still do not, have any extra for emergencies. After I received this bill, I had no idea how to solve it. And then, a person at Health Care For All (Denise Moran), sent me HLA's contact information"

HLA Staff News
We welcome newcomers
Jennifer Javier

Jennifer joined the HLA team in April as the new Manager of External Engagement. Jennifer brings nearly 10 years of nonprofit and volunteer management experience, and a deep passion for building champions for mission-driven organizations. Previous to HLA, she led the volunteer efforts at nonprofits such as Year Up Greater Boston, a national workforce development program for young adults, 826 Boston, a creative writing center for K-12 students, and Tenacity, a pathway program for middle schoolers that focuses on literacy and tennis. Jennifer received her B.A. from the University of California-Irvine.
Toni Kokenis

Toni joined HLA in August as our Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids-Boston Staff Attorney. Toni came to HLA from her position as an attorney with the state's Department of Children and Families. Her previous experience includes serving as a Law Clerk for the Middlesex County Juvenile Court, and co-founding We ARE (Athletes Reaching Equality) Pride and Stanford Athletes and Allies Together. Toni received a B.A. and a Master's in Sociology from Stanford University, a Master's in Education from Harvard University, and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law.
Sandy Eid

Sandy will join us this fall as our AmeriCorps Legal Action Fellow. Before law school, Sandy worked as an Academic Tutor at the Walter Denney Youth Center in Dorchester and as a Mental Health Worker at Boston Medical Center's Community Crisis Stabilization Unit. Sandy's experience also includes serving as a Judicial Intern with the Probate and Family Court and representing clients through the Health Law Clinic at Suffolk University Law School where she earned her J.D. Sandy earned her B.S. from the University of Massachusetts Boston
Kate Purrington

Kate Purrington joined HLA in July as our Staff Attorney for our Medical-Legal Partnership for Immigrants. Before joining HLA, Katherine (Kate) was an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House in New York City, where she helped immigrant clients in low-income situations access health insurance and eliminate medical debt through advocacy, appeals, and client education. In law school, she worked at two legal services organizations serving immigrant populations and was a judicial extern at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She received her J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law and a B.S. from New York University.
Alexandra Warren

Alex will join us this fall as our Equal Justice Works Fellow, a competitive program dedicated to engaging lawyers in public service. Her experience includes internships at Peter Cicchino Youth Project; Urban Justice Center in NYC working with LGBTQIA+ and undocumented youth; the Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans working on a class action case; and the Erickson Immigration Group in Arlington, VA. Alex received her B.A. from American University and her J.D. from Northeastern University's School of Law with a concentration of Health Law and Policy.
We bid a bittersweet farewell to
Nicole Kesner

Nicole joined HLA as our AmeriCorps Fellow in September of 2018 and represented HLA clients with a wide variety of health care access issues. After her one year of service and invaluable contributions, Nicole became a Staff Attorney for HLA and specialized in assisting clients who rely on MassHealth coverage. We are grateful for Nicole's impeccable service with HLA and wish Nicole the very best!
Emily Tabor

Emily joined HLA five years ago as a Program and Development Associate and after a couple of years was promoted to Manager of External Engagement. She expertly managed the ins and outs of HLA's Annual Benefit Breakfast, oversaw our Legal Network of pro bono attorneys, and led the communication efforts from The Docket newsletters to HLA's social media platforms. Emily left an incredible legacy and took with her a long line of champions rooting for her in every way. She is sorely missed!
Marina Millison

Marina served the past year as an AmeriCorps Fellow. She demonstrated her knowledge and versatility by supporting both our Public and Private Insurance teams. Furthermore, she helped train new staff and interns on Mass Health as they were on-boarded. We are extremely proud that she will be pursuing the next chapter of her legal career . We wish her the very best of luck!
Allison Knight

Allison moved from Portland, Oregon to join the MHAP for Kids team due to her passion for the mission of the program. As our first attorney based in Bristol County, Allison established the New Bedford location, advocating for youth access to mental health services and creating new community partnerships for HLA through her robust outreach. Allison played an integral role in securing special education and mental health services for youth and leading advocacy training during the pandemic. We wish her safe travels back to Portland and good luck!
A Big Thank You to ...
...HLA's Legal Network Attorneys for helping our clients pro bono:

  • David Belfort
  • Esther Driscoll
  • Deborah Fournier (in partnership with We the Action)
  • Matt Fox
  • Ben Golden and his student attorneys from Suffolk University's Law School
  • Jared Levin
  • Rebecca Maynard
  • Jim Rowan and his student attorneys from Northeastern University's Law School
...the following for their pro bono legal assistance to HLA on COVID-19-related organizational matters:

  • David Belfort of Bennett & Belfort, P.C.
  • James Montgomery of Foley Hoag, LLP

...and last, but certainly not least, the following foundations for various pandemic-related capacity-building assistance:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation
  • Fish Family Foundation
  • Klarman Family Foundation
Cy Pres Awards Can Support
Health Care Justice

Over the years, Cy Pres awards have made a significant difference in HLA's ability to help low-income consumers access health care and defend consumers' rights. These funds serve as a vital revenue source that support HLA's efforts along with the individual and corporate contributions, grants and contracts. Please contact HLA's Executive Director, Matt Selig, at 617-275-2986 or if you are interested in nominating HLA for a Cy Pres award. Thank you for considering us!
Health Law Advocates
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