The Affordable Care Act and Youth Aging Out of Foster CareThanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), beginning on January 1, 2014, states must now provide Medicaid coverage for individuals under age 26 who were in foster care at age 18 and receiving Medicaid.  This provision parallels one that allows all young people to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26. For youth who have spent time in foster care, access to health and mental health services is of critical importance and can make a difference in their successful transition to adulthood. Former foster youth typically face multiple health risks and experience behavioral health challenges and chronic health conditions at a greater rate than their peers, so ensuring that they can access this new health coverage is vital. Unfortunately, many service providers, state agencies, and former foster youth, themselves, are not aware of this new mandatory Medicaid coverage, which weakens its purpose.

This brief, authored by Dina Emam at the Urban Institute and Olivia Golden at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), looks at steps states can take to make sure that former foster youth are getting the coverage they are entitled to under the ACA. These include proactive measures such as automatic enrollment for those foster youth aging out, designing Medicaid benefits that respond to the health needs of this population, ensuring former foster youth who aged out of care in other states can cross state lines without becoming uninsured, and exploring strategies to make sure that former foster youth who enter guardianships are also covered. In addition, the brief explores ways states can find and enroll youth who aged out of foster care before 2014 and who are not yet 26, train child welfare and Medicaid staff on eligibility and benefits for former foster youth, and provide better coordination between child welfare and Medicaid agencies in outreach efforts.