No longer under the radar

Posted by Kassy Perry

Programs help ensure former foster youth stay insured

Date: 7/29/14
Outlet Full Name: Stockton Record
Author: Zack Johnson

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STOCKTON – Maybe it was the surge of adrenaline or the shock of being a passenger in a vehicle accident where people suffered severe injuries, but it wasn’t until the ambulance ride to the hospital that Krishneel Dass started feeling any pain at all.

He was still shaken up and in pain when he got to the hospital, but that’s not what he was worried about, he said. His injuries weren’t that bad, he thought, but there was one thing he was certain of: Whatever tests or procedures that awaited him would be expensive, and he didn’t have health insurance or enough money to afford expensive medical bills.

He told the hospital staff he needed to get up and go to the bathroom, then he slipped away.

“I limped out,” said Dass, now 24. “I was thinking financially. I wasn’t thinking in terms of what’s best for me.”

In foster care from the age of 13, he had already aged out of the system when the accident happened about two years ago. But he has health coverage, now, through a piece of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which provides free Medicaid for former foster youth until they turn 26. In California, the coverage is known as Medi-Cal.

Before the change, former foster youth were receiving medical coverage only through the age of 21.

It’s a little-known piece of the health care reform law that went into effect at the start of the year. It’s something advocates say gives parity with a better-known aspect of the law that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies up to the age of 26.

“It gives them a chance to get established in a job, or get an education,” said Caryn Romero, a program manager with Aspiranet, a nonprofit organization working with foster youth in San Joaquin County. “It helps them overcome obstacles that get in their way.”

The transition into adulthood is difficult for anybody, but even more so for former foster youth who don’t have the same family-provided safety net that others might have, she said. “They’re forced into becoming an adult at a much younger age.”

And foster children have often experienced neglect and abuse that can cause higher instances of physical or mental illness, said Fatima Morales, program manager at Children Now, an advocacy group that is trying to connect these young adults with the free health care.

“This is certainly a hard-to-reach population,” she said. They often move out of their home counties when they leave foster care, she said. And since they have already aged out of the system, they might not have heard about the changes.

The change in the law opened up free health and dental care to about 30,000 former foster youth in California, according to Children Now, which recommends former foster youth in San Joaquin County contact local county government to receive the health coverage. It doesn’t matter which county or state they were in when they were in foster care.

So far in San Joaquin County, 135 people have signed on for Medi-Cal through the program, said Frank Hernandez, an eligibility supervisor with the county. The county does not track how many former foster youth who are eligible currently live in the county, he said. But there have been ads on the radio and fliers passed out in efforts to reach them, he said.

Dass had kept in touch with Aspiranet and heard about the health care through the organization. Johnly Sen, 23, heard about it through Dass.

The two are former roommates and both were passengers in the same car accident.

In a separate incident, Sen injured his hand in a fall. “I walked away with three grand in medical bills,” he said. “And that’s a lot of money,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody thinks anything will happen to me. But it can.”