They say connections are everything - but sometimes it’s the re-connections that can really make the difference. Just ask Ricky Lewis and Falen LeBlanc.
As an Independent Living Coordinator with the Idaho Department of Family and Children’s Services, Falen was acting on a new provision of the Affordable Care Act when she got in touch with Ricky, a former foster youth, and helped reconnect him to Medicaid. Like most foster children and youth, Ricky had Medicaid coverage when he was in care, but when he “aged out” at age 18, he found himself without health insurance. Although he did have partial coverage from his college for a while, being without adequate coverage really took its toll when an infection landed Ricky in the hospital. As a result, he was faced with bills for emergency room fees and antibiotics that amounted to $400.
Luckily, young people like Ricky, who are enrolled in Medicaid when they age out of foster care, can now keep their Medicaid coverage and, regardless of their income, stay enrolled until age 26. (See Medicaid.gov (PDF, 120.92 KB) (PDF 120.92 KB) for more information.) “When youth age out at 18, Idaho’s system automatically continues their Medicaid,” explains Falen. “A social worker just has to update their address.” But the transition to the new group posed a challenge – some former foster youth, like Ricky, had aged out a few years ago before the new law took effect.
That’s where Falen’s outreach expertise comes into play. Among the effective strategies she uses: sharing information about Medicaid’s former foster youth provision with local 2-1-1 referral hotlines that people call when they are looking for services; using Facebook and other social media; and getting the word out through community partners like pharmacies and organizations on college campuses. Falen also says that promoting the new Medicaid opportunity with the state’s Education and Training Vouchers that help foster youth afford college is “an unintended bonus.” According to Julie Hammon of Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare, there are other ways former foster youth can find their way back to Medicaid. For example, they can enroll at any hospital that conducts presumptive eligibility (PDF, 151.09 KB) (PDF 151.09 KB) determinations.
Once Falen finds a former foster youth, she sends his or her name to a special unit that automatically reinstates Medicaid. As Ricky says, all the work took place behind the scenes -- he had a Medicaid card and was assigned a physician in no time. “Now I don’t have to worry about another financial situation coming up,” he said. Instead, he can concentrate on building his future. Ricky is returning to Lewis and Clark State College this fall to continue studying to become a world history teacher. And, as a member of Idaho’s Foster Youth Advisory Board, he’s also active in efforts to help make the foster care system better for others. He helped to craft a Foster Care Bill of Rights, so “kids will know about things like health care possibilities.”
Like other young people, former foster youth may be searching for paths to new opportunities that sometimes are in other states. They may be re-establishing relationships with extended family, seeking employment or attending college. Having health insurance during these critical transitions is vital. To help facilitate, states have the option to provide Medicaid coverage to former foster youth who aged out of care in another state. Eleven states – California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin – have elected this option. According to Jon Anderson, Georgia’s Deputy Medicaid Chief, in his state, a specialized group of state eligibility workers is available to help former foster youth re-establish their Medicaid coverage. If the young person did not age out in Georgia, the worker will call the state where the youth was in foster care to verify. “We want to help [former foster youth] to be productive and self-sustaining,” said Anderson. “That means helping them to maintain good health.”
For more information about the new former foster care eligibility group, see the Foster Care CHIP FAQ on Medicaid.gov (PDF, 120.92 KB) (PDF 120.92 KB). To view Georgia’s policies and procedures, see the Georgia Medicaid Manual. For more information about the health needs of former foster youth and additional outreach ideas, view our May 22, 2014 Connecting Kids to Coverage webinar, Enrolling Vulnerable Youth in Medicaid and CHIP.