Today, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act of 2015. This legislation removes a significant barrier to health coverage for young people aging out of foster care.

Recognizing the importance of health care coverage for youth who age out of foster care, Congress specifically provided Medicaid coverage for this population in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This provision equalizes coverage among young adults, placing young people aging out of foster care on par with their peers who are now able to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26.

The expansion of Medicaid to cover certain youth previously in foster care to age 26 is a significant victory for this population because it provides access to critical health coverage for an especially vulnerable group of young adults. Medicaid coverage will help young people become successful adults by ensuring that they, like their peers, have health care coverage and by removing barriers to success in post-secondary education and employment that can result from unexpected health care costs, unmet medical needs, and unaffordable insurance premiums or co-payments.

Given that former foster youth have well-documented and often significant health care needs, these young people should be eligible for Medicaid coverage in any state, and once enrolled, should be able to retain their coverage irrespective of changes in residency. Yet in their interpretation of the statute, CMS gave states the option to cover youth under this group who were in foster care and Medicaid in any state at the relevant point in time, but did not require that they do so. As a result, to date, only 13 states have taken up the option to extend coverage to youth who age out in another state.

Unfortunately, with a majority of states opting to not cover youth aging out in other states, many young people will be left without essential medical coverage. It is critical that we remove any barriers to coverage for young people aging out of care, and that includes removing the eligibility restriction tied to residency. The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act of 2015 does just that.

Many young people who have aged out of foster care are on a positive path, pursuing higher education, job opportunities and other promising pursuits, but the lack of guaranteed health coverage creates an unnecessary hurdle for these youth. Looking back at the intent of this coverage option – to provide parity for young people aging out of care relative to their peers who can continue to stay on their parent’s insurance – it is unfair to expect this population to stay in place at such a critical time in their life. The general population of young adults is mobile at this age, and expected, even encouraged to pursue college, jobs and travel – to leave the nest. These young adults are free to pursue opportunities, to go to other states for college, training school or even just to live. They will have no trouble taking their insurance along as they seek out these new experiences. However for young people aging out of foster care, already facing many odds, they are limited in their options for where they can attend post-secondary school and other opportunities. This restriction on eligibility for health coverage impacts all young people aging out of foster care and limits their ability to succeed.

We appreciate Senator Casey’s leadership in introducing this legislation and expect a companion bill to be introduced in the House in the near term. The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act offers a simple fix to a big problem and we hope it receives broad bi-partisan support and is enacted into law.

Bill would ensure former foster youth get Medicaid to 26, regardless of which state they move to: v/ @Campaign4Kids
Tweet this now.

Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan organization advocating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on child abuse and neglect.

Want to get involved? You can support our work by making a donation or joining our mailing list to receive updates and action alerts on these issues.