State Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) has asked for a change in the state’s approach to providing Medi-Cal coverage for foster care children ages 18 to 26.
Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program.
At a Senate Committee on Health hearing Oct. 30, Beall pointed out that under the Affordable Care Act, Medi-Cal benefits have been extended to age 26 for those who have been in California’s foster care system. When foster kids turn 18, they leave foster care, but they still are entitled to state health coverage till age 26. Many of those 18- to 26-year-olds aren’t getting it, Beall said.
“Can we please just automatically enroll all the foster kids?” Beall asked at the hearing. “What’s wrong with just taking care of those kids? They’re eligible, legally, without any income restriction. The foster youth are eligible to 26 years old. So just put ’em in!”
Toby Douglas, director of the Department of Health Care Services, was at the hearing and didn’t directly answer the call for automatic enrollment, as it was one of many issues raised at the hearing.
The state already offers eligibility to those people ages 18 to 26 who identify themselves as a former foster children, according to DHCS information officer Anthony Cava.
He said there are approximately 7,900 former foster children in that age group receiving Medi-Cal. That’s out of an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 total in this population.
“DHCS is currently working with county human services agencies, the California Welfare Directors Association, Covered California, advocates, the California Department of Social Services and other interested parties to identify and provide Medi-Cal coverage to all eligible former foster care youth,” Cava said in an email.
Cava said to make sure those 22,000 to 32,000 former foster children can sign up for the Medi-Cal coverage they’re entitled to, the state has a number of efforts in place, including:
- Working with the Department of Social Services to analyze program data and identify individuals who may be eligible under the former foster youth program, but are not currently enrolled in Medi-Cal;
- Ensuring that those who are eligible for Medi-Cal, but not currently enrolled, receive information about enrolling in coverage;
- Establishing outreach efforts, including developing flyers for former foster youth along with the one-page enrollment form;
- Improving the enrollment form, including adding spaces for an email address and mobile phone number;
- Launching a social media campaign;
- Establishing a foster youth web page for the DHCS website;
- Working directly with advocates to develop effective strategies to identify, inform, and enroll this group into Medi-Cal; and
- Including a check box on the online application portal, for former foster youth applicants to identify themselves as such.
“DHCS is working to resolve data reporting issues … so that [the computer system] provides lists of applicants who have the former foster youth flag, allowing us to ensure they don’t have to submit income or other verification that is not required of former foster youth,” Cava wrote. “It will also help ensure counties are working to expedite coverage.”
Cava also said the state this week will issue policy guidance for counties on how to expedite the processing of those applications.
Beall said in the hearing that if former foster children are eligible for Medi-Cal, they should simply be automatically enrolled in Medi-Cal.
“Do the automatic thing,” Beall said. “They’re not supposed to be determining income. Their lives are bad enough as it is. Their lives are tough enough, and we don’t need to make it tougher. Could we just make it simple?”
That was the sentiment echoed by Jessica Haspel, a senior associate of child welfare policy at Children Now.
“Those who aren’t in the Medi-Cal program now and need to get on, why not just auto-enroll those youth?” Haspel said. “If that can be done, that would be the ideal. The state does know who has left foster care, and to the extent that information could be used to make sure those kids are in, that would be the best.”
Haspel said that most of those former foster children don’t know they’re eligible for Medi-Cal just because they’re foster youth. Some of them have applied for Covered California, and haven’t been referred to Medi-Cal.
“Right now, if they apply for insurance through Covered California, the computer programming isn’t there to determine eligibility,” Haspel said.
“They need to make those computer programming changes,” she said. “This is a vulnerable population. They’re entitled to immediate enrollment. Just put them in. They don’t even need to apply, so why make them? We know who this population is, we need to utilize that information and just put them in, and not make them apply.”