As they continue to address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of young people who are currently a part of the foster care system and the tens of thousands who leave the system each year, Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.)—Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth—announced they introduced H.R. 3641, the “Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act of 2015,” legislation that will close a loophole and guarantee that foster youth will still receive health insurance through Medicaid until they turn 26 years old regardless of their state of residence.
One of the goals of the Affordable Care Act was to ensure that young people could stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26. Because foster youth do not have legal guardians, the law addressed foster youth by guaranteeing that as long they were in the foster care system by the time they were 18 years old, they would be able to receive Medicaid until they turned 26.
However, because of ambiguity in one section of the law, foster youth who leave the foster care system may find themselves without health insurance through Medicaid if they decide to move out the state—even if they are attending college, working, or need to leave for personal reasons.
Although 13 states have addressed this issue, foster youth in the remaining 37 states and the District of Columbia face the choice of leaving the state for new opportunities or losing their health insurance. One of these young people is Lezlie Martinez, a 19-year-old former foster youth from San Diego, California.
Ms. Martinez was planning on moving to Colorado because of the lower cost of living there, and her boyfriend will soon be moving to the state—meaning that she will have a support system for herself as well as for her two-year-old son.
However, Colorado is a state that is not offering free Medicaid to former foster youth, and now Ms. Martinez is faced with having to decide between having healthcare while living in one room with her son or moving to Colorado so she can provide a better life for her child and herself but face losing her health insurance.
“This changes everything,” said Ms. Martinez as she is forced to confront decisions about not just her future, but for her child as well.
“The Affordable Care Act was designed to help young people like Lezlie, not force them to choose between school in another state or healthcare where they currently live,” said Bass. “I commend the states that have addressed this problem, but now it is time for Congress to provide a permanent fix in federal law.”
The “Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act” is particularly important to ensure that foster youth maintain uninterrupted access to health insurance. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 35 and 60 percent of youth who enter foster care have at least one chronic or acute health condition such as asthma, cognitive abnormalities, visual and auditory problems, dental decay, and malnutrition that require long-term treatment, and 50 to 75 percent of foster youth exhibit behavioral or social competency issues that may require mental health treatment. In 2013, nearly 50,000 youth exited the foster care system between the ages of 16-20.
“I am proud to join with Congresswoman Bass in introducing this important legislation. Young adults in the foster care system deserve our special care and concern, as they came into the system through no fault of their own. These young adults are among the least served populations and its vitally important that Congress does all it can to provide them affordable and reliable access to medical care. I believe this legislation will do just that by making small clarifying fixes to the Affordable Care Act,” said Congressman McDermott.
Congressmembers G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tony Cardenas (D- CA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Judy Chu (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Danny K. Davis (D- IL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), John Garamendi (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Jim Langevin (D- RI), John Lewis (D-GA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D- NJ), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Charlie Rangel (D- NY), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) joined the legislation as original co-sponsors.
Over 140 prominent advocacy organizations support the legislation, including First Focus Campaign for Children, The Alliance for Children’s Rights, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Psychological Association, Children’s Defense Fund, Child Welfare League of America, and Foster Family-based Treatment Association.
H.R. 3641 is companion legislation to S.1852, introduced by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).