Legislation in Both Houses to Fix State Restrictions on Medicaid After Foster Care

Note: This story was updated at 5:45pm

U.S. Reps Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) will introduce a bill next week that would allow former foster youth access to Medicaid in any state until the age of 26.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2009, guarantees Medicaid eligibility until 26 to youth who age out of foster care, the same amount of time that children can remain on their parents’ health insurance plan.

But the Department of Health and Human Services has interpreted the provision to include only the state in which the youth was in foster care. It does not, as enforced today, require states to automatically enroll a former foster youth who moves there from the state where he ages out of care. So for example, if a youth were to age out in Virginia, but wanted to go to college in Florida, it would be up to Florida to decide on the youth’s eligibility.

That interpretation immediately drew the ire of national child welfare advocates, who have repeatedly asked the administration to change the regulations.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have misinterpreted the provision, after several years of requested clarification, and restrict foster youth from receiving health insurance when they move out of state,” Bass and McDermott wrote in a letter sent to round up support for the bill.

The House bill is identical to one introduced over the summer by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), according to Dan Roth, communications director for Bass. Both would alter a few words in Title XIX of the Social Security Act to make clear that any state must deem this group eligible for Medicaid.

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