A Medi-Cal mending for ex foster kids

Posted by Kassy Perry

San Diego Union Tribune
By Paul Sisson

Young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26 since 2010, but that benefit is just arriving for former foster kids.

On Jan. 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act extended Medicaid benefits — Medi-Cal in the Golden State — to foster youth who “aged out” of their coverage on their 18th or 21st birthdays. Coverage includes free medical care, vision exams, substance abuse treatment, mental health services and dental care.

Advocacy groups said while the benefit is now available, and is extended to former foster youth without forcing them to go through the normal income-verification process usually required for all Medi-Cal applications, few know about the benefit.

“Most of them don’t know that they have a special process where they can simply walk into their local Health and Human Services Agency office and be automatically re-enrolled until age 26,” said Laurie Orr, a counselor for ACE Scholars Services, an advocacy group that works to improve graduation rates for foster youth at Cal State San Marcos.

The number of qualifying young adults in California would fill nearly half of Qualcomm Stadium.

The state Department of Social Services estimates that there are more than 34,000 men and women statewide who aged out of the system and are now between the ages of 21 and 26, making them eligible to resume their Medi-Cal benefits under Obamacare’s new rules.

It is not clear how many of those currently reside in San Diego County. An official with the county’s Child Welfare Services department said that an average of seven adults per month currently age out of Medi-Cal coverage. If that was the rate in previous years, about 600 San Diego County residents would qualify.

The number could be much higher, in the thousands, if the local number of former foster kids tracks with the county’s proportion of the state’s overall population.

How to enroll

The state Health and Human Services Agency has a simple one-page form that asks for a former foster child’s full name, date of birth, social security number, state where they were in foster care and signature.

It must be submitted by mail or in person at one of the county’s 11 Medi-Cal offices.

Orr, the ACE Scholars counselor in San Marcos, said foster youth often go without if they don’t have health insurance coverage.

“This can be a pretty big deal because they either go without care or they’re accessing emergency care and risking a huge bill that they’re unable to pay,” Orr said.

A statewide campaign called “Covered til 26” is underway through statewide health and education advocacy group Children Now.

Ted Lempert, the nonprofit’s president, said keeping up with those who have aged out of the system can be difficult.

“It has been a tougher population to stay in touch with. A lot of these kids have moved from home to home to home, and have changed phone numbers,” he said.

Unlike new Medi-Cal enrollees, who must go through certain income qualification processes in order to be enrolled in Medi-Cal, foster kids simply have to get in touch with their local county health department and let them know that they’d like to resume their benefits.

Connie Cain, executive assistant to county welfare services chief Debra Zanders-Willis, said that foster youth who notify the county of their status and are age 21 to 26 get to bypass the normal Medi-Cal application process.

“No income and/or property verification is required,”Cain said, adding that the department can also verify the status of foster youth from other states.

Starting in June of 2013 she said the county started automatically reinstating every local foster kid who aged out on their 21st birthday, but that leaves hundreds or thousands more who have not yet come forward. A total of 89 have been reinstated in San Diego County since June of 2013.