ACA Provision Could Help Thousands of Foster Care Youth If Implemented Effectively

By Zane Jennings

A provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could help thousands of former foster care youth who face distinct health care challenges.  However, its success will depend on state implementation.  A new report co-authored by CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden and Urban Institute Research Associate Dina Emam offers specific recommendations to states to ensure these young people benefit from the provision.

Before the ACA, 20,000-30,000 youth per year who “aged out” of foster care benefits often lost health care coverage as well—a particular challenge because of the high levels of health and mental health problems these young people experience.  But the ACA includes a provision to help them, based on the idea that former foster youth whose families cannot care for them ought to have coverage just like other young people who can remain on their parents’ plan until age 26.  Therefore, the ACA enables young people who have aged out of foster care to receive Medicaid benefits until age 26.  If effectively implemented, the ACA provision could cover nearly 100,000 youth through 2017 alone.

 The report highlights eight steps states can take to make the provision most effective.  It addresses:

  • re-enrollment of foster care youth who previously “aged out”;
  • automatic enrollment of foster youth as they age out, building on coordination between Medicaid agencies and the child welfare system;  and
  • ensuring services for aged-out youth who now live in other states.

 “This provision is a particularly powerful example of the broader potential of the ACA to open doors for poor and vulnerable families, including those involved in the child welfare system, by treating medical and behavioral health problems that can cause enormous suffering and hinder success in school, on the job, and as parents,” said Golden.   

Read the report here.