As we continue to celebrate National Foster Care Month, supporting improved health outcomes and access to care for these young adults is critical to their overall health. Compared to youth in permanent families, youth who age out of foster care have disproportionately high rates of serious physical, mental, and behavioral health issues. They are more likely to have health issues that affect their day-to-day functioning and more likely to need psychological and substance abuse counseling. One study found one-third of former foster care youth living at or below the poverty line, and more than one in five experiencing homelessness within a year of leaving foster care. Young adults who have aged out of foster care cannot afford to purchase health coverage or incur medical debt – they need to have access to quality services to address chronic health issues.
While children currently in the foster care system have access to health services, many former foster youth may not realize that they are eligible for free health insurance. Medicaid coverage is now a benefit for former foster youth who aged out of the system between the ages of 18-21 until they turn 26. Medicaid coverage will help this high-risk population receive the following health benefits as young adults:
- Medical care, including for chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes
- Vision exams and vision wear
- Substance abuse treatment, such as detox and outpatient services
- Mental health treatment and counseling
- Dental Coverage
Beginning January 1st of 2014, the Department for Medicaid Services (DMS) and Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) have ensured that youth exiting the foster care system know they are eligible to continue Medicaid coverage and assisted them in the enrollment process when they leave the state’s care. In Kentucky there are more than 4,000 former foster youth under the age of 26 who are eligible for these services. On January 1, 2014 only 658 former foster youth were enrolled in Medicaid. Because of the collaboration and intentionality of DCBS, kynect, and DMS, more than 1,950 former foster youth were enrolled in Medicaid just one year later.
Kentucky is making great strides in connecting these youth to health care, but we still have many more youth left without insurance. You can help these youth receive the care they deserve by distributing the flyer and informing them about their new eligibility for health insurance.