Shortly before the President’s Day break, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act, HR 4998.

The legislation fixes a flaw in the ACA that extends Medicaid coverage to age 26 for any young person who exited foster care. With the Affordable Care Act, foster youth who are in care by their 18th birthday and previously enrolled in Medicaid are able to receive health care under Medicaid until the age of 26, much like their peers who can remain on their parents’ insurance plans until that age.

The flaw is that although the provision was intended to extend to all young people in this category, if that person moves to a different state, say for college or to a relative across state lines, a state has an option to extend that protection. The legislative intent was to extend this protection regardless of the state and this Medicaid protection was not affected by the Supreme Court decision that made Medicaid expansion optional.

In introducing the bill Congresswoman Bass said,

“Foster youth face incredible adversities throughout their lives, many of which begin after they turn 18 and grow out of the child welfare system. I’m proud of this body’s resolve to address this issue and fix this incredibly harmful misinterpretation. Especially as we address the opioid epidemic, we must consider the importance of coverage for this vulnerable population.”

Her office also pointed out that 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 differences, visual and auditory challenges, 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 between the ages of 16-20 exited the foster care system.