The Docket: Winter 2024

What's Inside:

Case Stories

  • Marina & Jamie's Story
  • Jules M.'s Story
  • Facts and Figures: 2023 HLA Cases by Municipality

Policy Corner

  • MassHealth Estate Recovery Reform 
  • Expanding Language Access for MassHealth Members 

Training Roundup

  • HLA Leads Trainings to Educate and Empower Communities

Pulse on Fundraising

  • 2023 Year-End Appeal

DEI Digest

  • HLA's Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Welcoming New Staff & Board Members

  • Melissa Wong Joins HLA's Board of Directors
  • Welcome to Our Newest Staff Members
  • Thank You to Our 2023 Fall Interns!
Facebook  Instagram  LinkedIn

Dear Friends of HLA,

We are excited to provide you with this update on the impactful legal and advocacy work of our fantastic team!

Our programs, serving people of all ages, in every part of our state, are eliminating barriers to health care through legal services, community engagement, and policy advocacy. You can read about examples of all of this work, and more, below!

We are working hard to keep you informed about our work in more ways. We hope you will look out for our recently launched series of client stories in your inbox and connect with us on social media, where we're sharing more content than ever!

Thank you very much for your interest in and support of our work. Looking forward to seeing you as 2024 continues!

Matt Selig

Executive Director

Client Stories

Thanks to your generous support, HLA has represented 872 clients already this year! With many cases involving multiple family members, we have served thousands of individuals.

Marina & Jamie's Story

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash.

Marina is a mother of three children living in Essex County. Her youngest, Jamie, is a 10th grader. Jamie is quiet and shy, and passionate about sports, particularly basketball and football. As a child, he was diagnosed with ADHD and OCD, and has received services through a special education plan, in addition to outpatient therapy, in-home therapy, and having a therapeutic mentor. 


When Jamie was 14 years old, he was arrested for carrying a weapon, a charge that was later dismissed. Because of the pending charge, he was suspended from school indefinitely and could not access the social/emotional and range of academic supports his special education plan required. He was receiving only one hour of tutoring per day, which was far below what he was entitled to. 


Marina’s mother met HLA's Essex County Mental Health Advocacy Program (MHAP) for Kids Staff Attorney Lucy Ellis at a presentation Lucy was doing for a local grandparents’ group. Lucy connected Marina with MHAP for Kids Staff Attorney Kendal Poirier, who leads HLA’s School Discipline Pilot Program (SDPP). The due process for implementing harsh suspensions like Jamie’s works quickly, and parents often need representation immediately upon learning of the suspension to protect their children from being unfairly excluded from school. In our SDPP, Kendal supervises the work of two law students who play key roles conducting legal research and investigations, and representing families in exclusion matters with very tight deadlines. 


Under supervision by Kendal, intern Kiran Mistry-Patel, a student at UMass Law, worked with Marina to represent Jamie at a hearing to keep him in school. While they were not able to keep him at his local school, Kiran argued that the school was not delivering on key services in his special education plan and successfully advocated to get Jamie an out-of-district placement while his case was pending. 


Jamie’s charge was eventually dismissed, and his family is now working with Lucy to advocate for him to stay at his new placement, where his grades are improving and he is getting the support he needs. He is hoping to start playing sports again and Marina is fighting for him to continue getting the services that will help him succeed.


 “Children with special needs, a lot of times they are easily influenced, and there was a lot of stuff [the school] wasn’t doing, not implementing parts of [Jamie’s] IEP, so Kiran called them on that…Parents with special needs children, we have to have a voice for them because they’re not able to advocate for themselves.” -- Marina

Jules M.'s Story

Jules and their partner.

Jules M. is in the mental health field and a parent of two school-aged children. They and their family live in Dorchester. In 2022, a piece of Jules’ tooth fell out. Unable to eat and concerned about the consequences for their oral health from not having a filling, Jules searched for a dentist that could take them quickly and accepted their insurance.

After being treated, before they left the dental office, Jules was informed they owed $8,500 for the procedures. Jules was completely blindsided. They could not afford this enormous bill considering their other financial responsibilities such as childcare costs, student loans and other debts. Jules felt trapped in the office. They were still feeling numb from the anesthetic and their face was abnormally swollen. And, they were afraid that they would not be allowed to leave the office without paying something -- so they agreed to put $500 on their credit card.

In the following months, the dentist’s office continued to bill Jules for varying amounts without explanation of the costs and with varying justification for billing. First the dental practice said that the cap of what dental insurance would pay had been exceeded, and later that they were out of network. After six months of billing, the office sued Jules in small claims court.

Jules’ partner, a social worker, referred them to HLA. Their case was assigned to Kathryn Koch, HLA’s Medical Debt Litigation Attorney. Kathryn was able to postpone the hearing and then wrote to the dental office stating that their billing practices were deceptive and requesting that collection activities cease. Finally, the dental office agreed to forgive the remaining balance for Jules’ procedure and dismissed the suit.

“I felt confident working with Kathryn and I felt like she knew what she was doing, had compassion for me, and kept me the perfect amount involved in making decisions; kept me up to date and I appreciated that she gave me choices of how I wanted to handle it.” -- Jules

Facts and Figures

2023 HLA Cases by Municipality

In 2023, HLA represented 1,342 clients with a known address across the Commonwealth. We served clients in 215 different Massachusetts cities and towns. The municipalities highlighted pink are ones in which we served a client in 2023, with the darker shades representing a higher number of cases in that city/town. We are proud to be Massachusetts' only statewide legal services organization focusing exclusively on health care access.  

Boston 195

Lowell 56

Springfield 36

Brockton 35

Worcester 35

Fall River 33

Haverhill 33

Framingham 30

Lynn 23

Malden 22

Methuen 22

New Bedford 22

Cambridge 21

Lawrence 20

Beverly 18

Chelsea 17

Fitchburg 17

Waltham 17

Leominster 16

Newton 16

Qunicy 16

Dracut 15

Revere 15

Barnstable 14

Everett 14

Somerville 14

Gardner 13

Holyoke 13

Pittsfield 13

Randolph 13

Weymouth 13

Brookline 12

Marlboro 12

Medford 12

Wareham 11

Arlington 10

Billerica 9

Danvers 9

Webster 9

Attleboro 8

Greenfield 8

Norwood 8

Taunton 8

Canton 7

Saugus 7

Southbridge 7

Ashland 6

Braintree 6

Franklin 6

Northbridge 6

Stoneham 6

Watertown 6

Amherst 5

Burlington 5

Dartmouth 5

Hanover 5

Natick 5

Woburn 5

Yarmouth 5

Ashburnham 4

Dedham 4

Dennis 4

Easton 4

Hudson 4

Middleborough 4

Milford 4

Milton 4

Montague 4

Oxford 4

Palmer 4

Plymouth 4

Rockland 4

Salem 4

Tewksbury 4

Wakefield 4

Ware 4

Westfield 4

Wilmington 4

Agawam 3

Athol 3

Ayer 3

Blackstone 3

Chelmsford 3

Douglas 3

Dudley 3

Easthampton 3

Falmouth 3

Foxborough 3

Gloucester 3

Grafton 3

Great Barrington 3

Holbrook 3

Mashpee 3

Melrose 3

North Adams 3

North Andover 3

Northampton 3

Peabody 3

Plainville 3

Rockport 3

Walpole 3

Westborough 3

Amesbury 2

Avon 2

Bellingham 2

Belmont 2

Bourne 2

Boxford 2

Chicopee 2

Clinton 2

Cohasset 2

East Bridgewater 2

Fairhaven 2

Halifax 2

Hamilton 2

Harwich 2

Ipswich 2

Lancaster 2

Ludlow 2

Lunenburg 2

Mattapoisett 2

Medway 2

Middleton 2

Northborough 2

Princeton 2

Reading 2

Scituate 2

Somerset 2

Spencer 2

Sterling 2

Stow 2

Sudbury 2

Swansea 2

Templeton 2

Wellfleet 2

Westport 2

Whitman 2

Winthrop 2

Ashby 1

Auburn 1

Barre 1

Becket 1

Bedford 1

Berlin 1

Berlin 1

Bridgewater 1

Buckland 1

Buzzards Bay 1

Carver 1

Charlton 1

Chatham 1

Dalton 1

Deerfield 1

Dighton 1

Duxbury 1

East Longmeadow 1

Eastham 1

Edgartown 1

Erving 1

Fiskdale 1

Florence 1

Groton 1

Hadley 1

Hampden 1

Hanson 1

Heath 1

Hingham 1

Holliston 1

Hull 1

Kingston 1

Lakeville 1

Lanesborough 1

Leicester 1

Lenox 1

Lexington 1

Lincoln 1

Littleton 1

Lynnfield 1

Mansfield 1

Marblehead 1

Marshfield 1

Mendon 1

Millis 1

Needham 1

Norfolk 1

North Attleboro 1

North Reading 1

Northfield 1

Oakham 1

Orange 1

Paxton 1

Pelham 1

Pepperell 1

Provincetown 1

Raynham 1

Royalston 1

Rutland 1

Sandwich 1

Shirley 1

Stockbridge 1

Stoughton 1

Sutton 1

Tyngsborough 1

Uxbridge 1

Wellesley 1

West Newbury 1

West Springfield 1

West Tisbury 1

Westford 1

Westminster 1

Weston 1

Williamstown 1

Winchendon 1

Winchester 1

Worthington 1


MassHealth Estate Recovery Reform 

Members of HLA’s Access to Care and Coverage team are advocating for a bill to reform MassHealth’s “estate recovery” policy. This advocacy is led by the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the Disability Policy Consortium. “Estate recovery” is the state’s collection of assets from the estate of a deceased person to recoup costs of their health care services paid for by MassHealth after the person turned 55. The federal government mandates estate recovery for certain services, including nursing home care and home and community-based services, but many services are optional to collect for. Massachusetts has one of the most aggressive estate recovery policies in the country, opting to collect to recover the cost of all of the optional services.  


The amount of money Massachusetts actually receives through estate recovery is relatively insignificant to the state’s budget, but it has an outsized and painful impact on the people it affects, who are mostly in low-income situations. In these cases, assets left to surviving relatives, such as savings or a home, are threatened or taken away to pay back medical expenses that MassHealth covered. This means MassHealth acts more as a health care loan than health care coverage, and estate recovery functions as a wealth tax on people with few resources to begin with. 


The proposed bill would limit estate recovery in Massachusetts to only what is federally mandated, and would eliminate estate recovery for people in MassHealth’s CommonHealth plan, which serves people with disabilities. HLA’s Medical Debt Litigation Attorney Kathryn Koch delivered verbal testimony to a State House committee in support of the bill, and Director/Lead Attorney Andrew Cohen and Senior Supervising Attorney Wells Wilkinson submitted comments and continue to meet with legislators to advocate for this bill. We encourage and hope you will get involved by calling your legislator and voicing your support for H.1168/S.726, to reform MassHealth estate recovery! 


Learn more about estate recovery in Massachusetts: the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation recently published a primer on the estate recovery process that endorses reforms to the law and highlights an HLA client. The Boston Globe also recently reported on hardships caused by the estate recovery process.

Expanding Language Access for MassHealth Members 

Recently, MassHealth began to translate important documents and notices into the top five languages in Massachusetts, after English. MassHealth has been providing these documents in Spanish, the second most common language in the Commonwealth, for several years. (In 2021, Spanish speakers made up 11.6% of MassHealth members).  

In previous discussions with MassHealth officials, HLA Supervising Attorney Kate Purrington has advocated for the agency to translate important documents into more of the languages commonly spoken by Massachusetts residents. This will make important documents such as requests for information, updates on changes to coverage, and terminations easier to understand and respond to for MassHealth members. More than 40,000 Portuguese speakers and 13,000 Haitian Kreyol speakers, in addition to the MassHealth members who speak Chinese and Vietnamese will benefit from this continued effort to improve language accessibility.  


HLA Leads Trainings to Educate and Empower Communities

Since our last publication of the Docket in December, HLA staff have led 16 trainings for consumers and health, social service, and legal service providers.  

HLA staff Executive Director Matt Selig, Deputy Director Marisol Garcia, Supervising Attorney David Satin, and Staff Attorneys Amanda Stutman, Jessie Fried, and Caitlin Reed celebrate the opening of the Gándara Center's Family Resource Center in Springfield.

Staff Attorney Lucy Ellis and Managing Attorney Lisa Morrow with Tanya Cornetta and Mike Wilson of the Pathways Family Resource Center at a MHAP for Kids training for the Salem Juvenile Court.

Amanda Stutman, one of our newest attorneys with the Mental Health Advocacy Program (MHAP) for Kids and the program’s first attorney to be based in Springfield, has hit the ground running. She has delivered four “MHAP for Kids 101” trainings to community organizations in the Springfield area to help spread the word about how MHAP for Kids can help families get their kids needed mental health services. MHAP for Kids staff attorneys Kendal Poirier, based in New Bedford, and Caitlin Reed, based in Holyoke, held trainings on special education advocacy for parents. Also, Caitlin, along with HLA’s Deputy Director Marisol Garcia conducted a training for grandparents raising grandchildren at Enlace de Familias, the Family Resource Center in Holyoke.  

HLA Deputy Director Marisol Garcia and Staff Attorney Caitlin Reed, along with staff and attendees at a training for grandparents raising grandchildren hosted by Enlace de Familias Family Resource Center in Holyoke.

Staff Attorney Brian Bermudez delivers a "MHAP for Kids 101" training to service providers at the Attleboro Family Resource Center.

On our Access to Care and Coverage Team, Supervising Attorneys Kate Purrington and Jennifer Cedor, and Director/Lead Attorney Andrew Cohen delivered multiple trainings on MassHealth’s process for redetermining members’ eligibility after the end of the pandemic public health emergency, in addition to MassHealth eligibility for immigrants.  


Thank You to Our 2023 Year-End Donors

HLA thanks all the donors of our 2023 Year-End Drive for their wonderful generosity. With your support, we raised over $90,000 to continue our work to expand access to health care!

Myron Allukian

Jacquie Anderson



Arlene Ash

Jeanette Atkinson

Leslie Bennett

Jenifer Bosco

Jeffrey Bramson

Emily Brice

Barbara Carboni

Tom Crane

Catlin Donnelly

Catherine Dunham

Alan Einhorn

Kathy Eklund

Margaret & Peter Enrich

Doug Fiebelkorn

Mollie Baldwin Foley Charitable Trust

Cindy Friedman

Gail Garinger 

Alan Geismer

Leonard Glantz

Philip Gonzalez

Josh Greenberg & Kate Dulit

Sylvia Hammer

Seth & Erica Hitchings

Jonna Hopwood

Kay Hughes

Kristen Johnson

David Keller & Julie Meyers

Ben Klein

Robert Lamarca

Mary Kay Leonard

Martin Levin

Andrew London

Renee Loth

Jessica MacAuley 

Harry Margolis

Jane Matlaw

Louis & Margaret Ann Metzger

Maria Mossaides

Peter Moyer

John & Lucia Mudd

Christine Murphy

Mary Olsson

Katherine Parke 

Jeremy Paul


James Re

Allan Rodgers

Nina Rosenberg

Robert Russell

Mary Ryan

Michele Sasso

Nancy Allen Scannell 

Karen Schwartzman

Andrew Seligsohn

Linda Severin

Marla Shatkin

William Shaw

Patrick Sheehan

Stephen Shestakofsky

Jenny Siegel

Lauren Smith

Max Solet

Stephen & Joan Subrin

Paul Sugarman

Suzanne Suppa

David Szabo

Diane Tillotson

Paul van der Wansem

Ben Wilson


HLA's Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

As HLA grows, our DEI committee continues working to develop a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive environment for clients and staff alike. Here are some of our recent DEI efforts: 

  • HLA's Outreach and Community Engagement Committee, a subcommittee of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, recently created a new outreach plan. The goal of this work is to reach diverse communities who might not know about HLA's services or be referred through our existing networks. Led by our Medical Debt Litigation Attorney, Kathryn Koch, the committee's plan focuses on data collection to evaluate HLA's outreach needs, creating materials to promote HLA's services in the seven most common language spoken in Massachusetts, and building community relationships. 

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash.


Melissa Wong Joins HLA's Board of Directors

Melissa Wong

Partner, Holland & Knight


Melissa is a Partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight. She is a member of the firm's national Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry Group, with a focus on managed care and federal healthcare programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, as well as prescription drug coverage and reimbursement issues. She is a 2010 graduate of the University of Connecticut Law School and a 2001 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

Melissa first became connected to HLA, and revealed her passion for our mission, when she signed up for our Pro Bono Legal Network in 2010 and participated in various HLA legal trainings and pro bono referrals while an Associate at Holland & Knight. More recently, as she moved up in her law firm, she became HLA’s point person at Holland & Knight for pro bono relationships and event sponsorships.

Melissa co-chaired HLA’s 2022 Benefit Breakfast when we significantly exceeded our fundraising goal. She has made sponsor-level personal donations and moved her law firm up to a higher sponsor level.

Most recently, Melissa connected HLA with her mother who serves as a valued Mandarin and Cantonese translator for HLA. She serves as the Board Chair of the Asian + Pacific Islanders for Health and is interested in working with HLA to help guide our outreach in the local Asian community.

Welcome to Our Newest Staff Members

Amanda Stutman

Staff Attorney (she/her)

Amanda is a Staff Attorney with the Mental Health Advocacy Program (MHAP) for Kids in Hampden County. Her office is based in the Springfield Family Resource Center. Prior to joining the MHAP for Kids, Amanda was a Staff Attorney with Way Finders, Inc., a regional nonprofit focused on serving Western Massachusetts. Amanda supported Way Finders in offering services that helped people access and maintain affordable housing. Prior to Way Finders, Amanda practiced as a trial attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services throughout Hampden County. Amanda was appointed to represent indigent clients charged with criminal offenses. Amanda has also represented clients in Care and Protection cases within the Springfield and Holyoke juvenile courts. In those roles Amanda provided client-directed, zealous advocacy for individuals by litigating matters through trial/disposition. Amanda earned her B.A. from Rollins College and received her JD from Roger Williams University School of Law in 2012.

Kyra Sweeney

Staff Attorney (she/her)

Kyra is a Staff Attorney for the Access to Care and Coverage Practice. Her work focuses mainly on public programs advocacy. Prior to joining HLA in 2023, Kyra served as the N. Neal Pike Legal Fellow at the Disability Law Center, where she represented clients with disabilities in obtaining reasonable accommodations and protecting their civil rights. Kyra received her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. During law school, Kyra participated in the Civil Litigation and Justice Clinic and the school’s National Moot Court team. Kyra also has a B.A. in Public Policy Analysis from Pomona College.

Thank you to Our 2023 Fall Interns!

Irene Ameena

School Discipline Project Legal Intern (she/her)

Harvard Law School

Irene joined HLA as a clinical legal intern for Fall 2023 with the MHAP for Kids School Discipline Pilot. She is a second-year student at Harvard Law School, where she is a Fellow in the Youth Advocacy and Policy Lab and is also involved with Harvard Defenders, the Muslim Law Students' Association, and the Bell Collective for Critical Race Theory. Irene is especially interested in anti-carceral solutions, educational equity, and racial justice. Before law school, she worked as a research assistant at a Texas-based mental health nonprofit and as a nanny. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2017 with degrees in Human Dimensions of Organizations and Plan II Honors. 

Margot Babington

Medical Debt Research Intern (she/her)

Boston University School of Public Health

Margot joined HLA this fall as a research intern working in the Medical Debt Initiative, where she analyzed case data to uncover trends as well as make recommendations for data collection best practices. As a current masters in public health candidate at Boston University, Margot is passionate about access to care and healthcare affordability. She was particularly excited to delve into this important issue and learn from everyone at HLA. In her free time, Margot enjoys playing tennis and spending time with friends. 

Kiran Mistry-Patel

School Discipline Project Legal Intern (she/her)

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, School of Law

Kiran joined HLA as a legal intern for the Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids. Prior to joining HLA in September 2023, Kiran completed a summer externship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights – Policy Division where she assisted with investigations to ensure covered entities were compliant with various federal laws. Prior to this, Kiran worked at a personal injury law firm as a Legal Assistant. Kiran is currently pursuing a law degree at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, School of Law (UMass Law). Kiran is involved in various capacities at UMass Law, such as being an Academic Fellow to 1L students and a Campus Representative for Themis Bar Review, LLC. In her spare time, Kiran enjoys baking, watching movies, and spending time with her family and friends. 

Ramón Suzuki-Lopez

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Intern (he/him)

Tufts University

Ramón was our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) intern this fall and winter! Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Ramón is a first year at Tufts University and a recent graduate from Phillips Exeter Academy. At Health Law Advocates, Ramón researched racial disparities in financial eligibility barriers for state healthcare and non-profit health services in Massachusetts. He also helped communications to start HLA’s new Instagram account and re-design HLA’s website and outreach materials with accessibility and DEIJ in mind. Ramón is passionate about ending social and economic inequalities and has published a TEDx Talk on his experience being homeless in Los Angeles. In his free time, Ramón loves spending time in nature and writing fiction, non-fiction, and prose. 

Health Law Advocates
One Federal Street | Boston, MA 02110 | 617.338.5241 |
Facebook  Instagram  LinkedIn