Health Law Advocates
Summer 2015
The Docket
Quarterly Newsletter
What's Inside...
  • A Message from the Executive Director
  • The 20th Benefit Breakfast is around the corner!
  • Client Profile: Mental Health Advocacy
  • Celebrating J-MHAP in Lowell and Salem
  • Project Update: Protecting Rights to Coverage under the ACA
  • Staff Profile: Kuong Ly
  • 10 Years of Advocating for Children's Mental Health
  • HLA Staff News
20th Anniversary
Benefit Breakfast

Featured Speaker
Senator Elizabeth Warren 

Friday, November 6th
7:00 - 9:15AM
Sheraton Hotel Boston
Questions? Contact Emily Tabor via email or call directly at 617.275.2881

A Celebration of JMHAP

This past Spring, HLA held two events at the Juvenile Courts in Salem and Lowell to celebrate the success of our Juvenile Court Mental Health Advocacy Project (J-MHAP) and promote replication of this pilot program in other areas in the Commonwealth. Guest of honor, Chief Justice of the Juvenile Court Amy Nechtem praised the project noting that she has seen its impact when she was a juvenile court judge in Salem. The impact "can be dramatic and change lives," she said.

"...a hallmark and a trailblazer for the entire country."

- State Sen. Eileen Donaghue

The Lowell event was covered in the Lowell Sun. Read the article here

Visit our Facebook page to see photos of the Lowell and Salem celebrations. 
Click the image for more information.

10 Years of Advocating for Children's Mental Health 

Ten years ago, HLA launched our Children's Mental Health Access Project to confront one of the single most devastating failures of our health care system--the inaccessibility of children's mental health care.

We pledged a ten-year effort to identify and challenge some of the most intractable barriers standing between children and the care they need. That is exactly what we did, and we have made tremendous progress.

Thanks to our generous donors, the Project has achieved the following:

800+ children get free legal help to access mental health care
90+ trainings for 2000+ parents and caregivers on children's rights to mental health care   

4 trailblazing initiatives to confront onerous obstacles to care

$2.6 million more raised to fight for children with mental health needs

While we have diminished system deficiencies, they stubbornly persist, and new barriers to care continue to arise. That is why HLA now renews our dedication to children's mental health care.

This year, we are replenishing our Children's Mental Health Access Fund to continue to advocate for youth for the next 10 years.

How can you help? By becoming a sponsor for the 20th Annual Benefit Breakfast!

Read more about our work in advancing mental health services for Massachusetts children in our new brochure and on our website

HLA Staff News
Please join us in welcoming the following addition to our fantastic staff:


Madeleine Laffitte joined HLA as our new Paralegal/Intake Coordinator in June. Madeleine coordinates all of HLA's client intakes and assigns them to staff attorneys. Madeline is a student at Northeastern University and joins HLA through their co-op program. We are thrilled she has joined the HLA team!  


Hayley MacKenzie joined HLA as the Program and Development Assistant in July, and came with high accolades from our sister organization, Health Care For All where she served through Northeastern's co-op program. Hayley has been a tremendous help planning HLA 20th Benefit Breakfast!  

Caroline Donahue joined HLA as our new Parmet Fellow in August. Caroline has a JD from Northeastern Law School and an MPH from the BU School of Public Health.  Caroline received her BA from the University of Vermont where she captained the Women's hockey team. Prior to law school she worked as a Connector Associate with the Health Connector and as a Corps Member with City Year.

Caroline Clair joined HLA as our new AmeriCorps Fellow this month. Caroline received her JD with distinction in the Health and Biomedical Law Concentration at Suffolk University Law School. Caroline interned at HLA last summer and participated in Suffolk Law's Health Law Clinic in her third year.  She received her BA from the University of New Hampshire and served for two years after graduation as a staffperson with the New Hampshire Democratic Party. 

To view a full list of HLA's staff and their bios please  click here .   
We also bid a bittersweet farewell to:


Laura Goodman ended her tenure in August after serving as HLA's Parmet Fellow and then Director of our Mental Health and Addiction Parity Initiative. Under Laura's leadership the Parity Initiative made nationally-recognized progress improving access to mental health and addiction treatment. We wish her the best of luck at Margolis & Bloom! 


Nancy Ryan concluded her tenure at HLA in May. Nancy served as HLA's Parmet Fellow and then helped lead HLA's Consumer Assistance Program, our program funded through the Affordable Care Act to protects consumers' rights under that law. Under Nancy's watch, our CAP program, operated in partnership with Health Care For All, received recognition as a national model. Nancy is continuing to fight for health care access at the Health Policy Commission!


Natalie Audelo, completed her Northeastern co-op placement as HLA's Paralegal/Intake Coordinator in June. Natalie was instrumental working on the front lines of HLA's work to help consumers access the health care they need. Thank you, Natalie! 


Thank you for the fabulous work you've done at HLA. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!
A Message from the Executive Director
Dear Friends,
I hope you are enjoying the last weeks of summer. More than half way through 2015, our team is making our 20th Anniversary year one of our most impact-filled yet. We are happy to provide this update and hope you enjoy this new design for The Docket, our quarterly newsletter.

We are: demonstrating the immense value of mental health advocacy for children in juvenile court; standing up for the rights of immigrants to access health care at a time this population is under siege by some; setting the pace nationally as the voice for consumers on mental health and addiction health insurance parity; leading efforts to protect Massachusetts consumers from exorbitant out-of-pocket health care costs; and, playing an important role in making sure the Affordable Care Act works for low-income Massachusetts residents.

Does it sound like we are busy? Well, we are!

While all of this happening, we're getting ready for our 20th Anniversary Benefit Breakfast with Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday, November 6th. Please join us for this can't-miss event - it's going to be a great time!  

Best regards,

Matt Selig
Executive Director 

Client Profile
Advocating for Gabriel: Helping a Teen with Mental Health Needs Receive the Services He Needs 
Gabriel is a very bright 13-year-old who lived in a single hotel room with his family on the North Shore after becoming homeless. As one might expect under these circumstances, he had a tough time settling in to his new school.  His attendance, grades and behavior all suffered and he experienced depression and anxiety. Ultimately, Gabriel became involved in the juvenile court system after acting out in school. His parents asked the school district to evaluate Gabriel to see if he required special education support. Gabriel was found ineligible for services and continued to struggle in school.
Early this year, the judge on Gabriel's case appointed Lisa Morrow, HLA's Mental Health Advocate for the Salem Juvenile Court to help Gabriel. HLA's Juvenile Court Mental Health Advocacy Project (JMHAP) provides court-appointed Mental Health Advocates to help children in the Salem and Lowell Juvenile Courts with unmet mental health needs access treatment. Lisa quickly reviewed Gabriel's school records and discovere d that the district failed to assess Gabriel's mental health needs via social/emotional testing measu res when evaluating him for special education services. She also learned that the district found Gabriel ineligible for services without informing Gabriel's parents of the meeting where that decision was made, and generally with out their input (a clear violation of special education law). Lisa immediately helped Gabriel's parents request further testing. 
During this time, Gabriel violated his pre-trial release conditions by receiving a brief suspension from school. As a result, his probation officer asked the judge to place him in the custody of the Department of Youth Services (DYS). Lisa worked together with Gabriel's attorneys and new mental health care providers to present a united front with the judge regarding services and a plan for Gabriel. Lisa made the case that she was working aggressively to help improve Gabriel's situation at school, and that incarcerating him at DYS would be a tremendous setback to his ability to engage with his mental health care providers and in school. The judge agreed, and Gabriel remained with his family.
Over time, the school district began to retest Gabriel. His family soon thereafter found housing in another school district, and Lisa worked closely with the special education department there to ensure it was aware of the ongoing testing. Lisa has arranged for a special education meeting at the start of the new school year in Gabriel's new district. Due in large part to Lisa's efforts to secure needed evaluations and to keep him out of juvenile detention, Gabriel is doing much better. He is staying out of trouble, and is looking forward to a fresh start at his new school.

Generous financial support for JMHAP is provided by The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, The Klarman Family Foundation, The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, The Ludcke Foundation, The John W. Alden Trust and the Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation. 

Project Update
Central Massachusetts Initiative to Protect Consumers' Legal Rights to Coverage Under Health Care Reform 
Ashley Jones-Pierce,
Staff Attorney

The ongoing challenges plaguing Massachusetts' system for enrolling residents in health insurance coverage are well-documented. Due to major defects hampering the State's enrollment system in 2014, an unprecedented 1.5 million Massachusetts residents must reapply to maintain their coverage in 2015. Seeing an elevated risk for wrongful coverage terminations as renewal applications flood an already beleaguered system, HLA launched an initiative in April primarily focused on preventing Central Massachusetts residents from losing coverage. The initiative also serves residents of other parts of the State.

Since April, HLA has represented more than 90 consumers through the initiative, including nearly 30 from Central Massachusetts. One client HLA recently represented is a single mother from Lancaster and her 8-year-old son who was recently diagnosed with autism. The family has very limited income from the mother's job and they rely on health insurance from the State. When the family tried to reapply for health benefits, including enhanced coverage based on the boy's disability, both the mom and the boy ran into trouble securing coverage. Two HLA attorneys represented the family and proved the family was eligible for coverage, including new benefits for the treatment of the boy's autism.

Many of the clients HLA assists through the initiative not only have difficulty securing insurance coverage, but they have incurred enormous amounts of medical debt from health services obtained while their coverage was improperly interrupted during the reapplication process. HLA recently helped a 29-year-old man win retroactive coverage for a period during which he was paying premiums, his coverage was erroneously deactivated and he had a three-day hospital stay costing more than $50,000.

The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts
awarded a $101,000 grant to HLA to provide free legal assistance to residents of Central Massachusetts who encounter difficulty maintaining their coverage through State insurance programs, such as MassHealth and the newly created Connector Care program. "This is a unique situation that calls for swift action to protect the health of the most vulnerable in our communities," said The Health Foundation President, Jan Yost. "By supporting skilled attorneys who can navigate the system and protect people's rights, HLA can make a substantive difference for a lot of vulnerable families. Maintaining health insurance coverage is essential to accessing healthcare services and thus to maintaining good health."  

The initiative is also funded in part by a grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA) Foundation, which provided HLA with a $75,000 general operating grant to support its advocacy work in health care reform implementation, medical debt, children's mental health advocacy, access to oral health, and pro-bono legal support. Created in 2001, the mission of the BCBSMA Foundation is to expand access to health care in Massachusetts through grantmaking and policy initiatives. "The redetermination process for health insurance coverage is complex. The Foundation's grant supports HLA's staff in providing individualized assistance to MassHealth members to ensure that those who are eligible continue to receive coverage," said BCBSMA Foundation President Audrey Shelto.

As HLA helps more families and identifies problems with the system itself, HLA will report those to State officials and advocate for changes that will prevent additional wrongful terminations.
For example, HLA identified numerous cases where the State's system for verifying applicants' immigration status identified legal immigrants as undocumented. This resulted in many legal residents losing out on comprehensive coverage. HLA and others successfully advocated with the State to improve the application process and prevent others from losing the coverage for which they're eligible.  

While Massachusetts, notably, has the lowest uninsurance rate in the Nation, there are many communities in Worcester County and the surrounding region where the uninsurance rate exceeds the state average of approximately 4%.  This makes the initiative's focus on Central Massachusetts even more important.

Staff Profile:
Kuong Ly 
Kuong joined HLA in January 2015 as a Public Interest Law Fellow. A recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, Kuong now provides legal representation to low-income Massachusetts residents experiencing difficulties accessing health care or paying for needed medical services.
Kuong was born in Vietnam to parents who had fled the genocide in neighboring Cambodia. He and his family immigrated to the United States in the winter of 1990 and resettled to Lexington, Massachusetts. Excelling in the rigorous public education system, he received a scholarship to attend Boston College where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and was awarded the Edward Finnegan Prize, the highest academic honor given to one graduating student at commencement. Throughout his undergraduate career, Kuong dedicated himself both academically and professionally to addressing issues of inequality and social policy, both domestic and abroad. As a result, he was selected in 2007 as a Harry S. Truman Scholar and named to USA Today's All-Academic First Team.
Upon graduating from BC, Kuong joinedlHealth Care For All (HCFA) where in 2008, he led and organized the Consumer Health Quality Council. The Council consisted primarily of individuals who received poor quality health care in Massachusetts. He facilitated focus groups to improve health care legislation and worked with members of the council to develop an advocacy tool. During this time, he drafted and filed three bills to improve the delivery of health care in Massachusetts.
While at HCFA, Kuong's mother fell ill and was left with mounting medical debt. Kuong sought legal counsel through HLA, and staff attorney Lorianne Sainsbury-Wong was able to erase all of his mother's medical debt from MassHealth. 
After graduating Boston College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Kuong moved to England to attend the University of Essex School of Law, where he earned his Masters of Laws, and went directly to the University of Cambridge for his Master of Philosophy. He received numerous Fellowships, including the Harvard Galbraith Fellowship and the British Marshall Scholarship.

Through the UCLA School of Law's initiative to support public interest lawyers, Kuong received funding to return to Boston and work at Health Law Advocates. "I pursued a law degree to inform and change policy and understand the law to directly impact underserved communities," Kuong said.