By Megan Baier
Parents across the country can put their 20-something kids back on their private health insurance thanks to health reform laws that rolled out last month But thousands of young adults will not have that opportunity: foster children who were raised in the care and custody of the state.
Senator Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, sponsored SB 771, a bill that would have given foster children the ability to continue to receive health insurance through Medicaid until age 26.
In 2014 federal health reform laws will allow foster youth to stay on Medicaid until age 26. Senator Alquist’s bill aimed to go a step further and enact the law in California early, but it was held up over costs. Although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation to extend many foster care benefits to youth between the ages of 18 and 21, older former foster kids will still be going without health care.
Sierra Jones grew up in foster care. She recently turned 21 and lost her Medi-Cal benefits. Jones says that now her health care options are limited, and she has to make out of pocket payments at the clinic she can go to.
Jones is pursuing higher education and cannot keep a full time job that would offer health insurance, while other private insurance options are too expensive, leaving her without any coverage.
“If I get sick then I’m just going to have to deal with it,” she said. Even if she needed medical care, she said she would not go to the clinic because of the cost. “It just makes it so much harder now.”
Thousands of young adults who were formerly in foster care are in the same situation as Jones and will not have the same opportunity as children with parents until health reform extends Medicaid in 2014.
Kelly Hardy, associate director of health for Children Now, works in collaboration with the Children’s Defense Fund and the Children’s Partnership on a campaign to win health insurance for all California children.
Hardy calls the state’s refusal to extend Medicaid benefits for foster children “short-term thinking.”
“Unfortunately I think policy makers are just looking at any way to avoid costs, but really you can either pay now or pay later,” Hardy said. “If young adults are not getting the health care that they need, they’re not going to be as productive and healthy later in life.”
“The state is legally the guardian for foster youth and so it’s only fair and equitable for all young adults up to age twenty-six to be able to stay on their guardian’s health insurance plan” Hardy said. “We really need to make sure the most disadvantaged youths are getting all the support that the most advantaged kids are getting.”
According to Senator Alquist, there are about 75,000 children in foster care, but few stay for long periods of time. Typically youth enter the state’s custody in poor health and often have a history of abuse or neglect.
The bill would have extended health insurance to 5,000-10,000 former foster kids between the ages of 21 to 26, costing the state anywhere from $25 million to $50 million a year.