Obamacare under the radar: former foster youth can get free health insurance until age 26

Apr 22, 2014

Infowire fills the information gap and meets the news needs of families struggling to make ends meet. Get all Infowire alerts by texting INFOWIRE to 734-954-4539 or email infowire@michiganradio.org

Earlier this year there was an all-out advertising blitz aimed towards young people between the ages of 18 and 34, trying to get them to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

More than 6 hours of Obamacare commercials on YouTube? That smells like desperation.

But it seems like nobody, not LeBron James, not Zak Galifianakas, not JLo's mom or the other famous people who've made commercials for Obamacare mentioned the part of the law that allows young people in foster care on their 18th birthday to sign up for extended Medicaid, and keep it until age 26.

Did you forget something? The part of the health care law that covers young people in foster care has gotten little to no attention.
Did you forget something? The part of the health care law that covers young people in foster care has gotten little to no attention.
Credit healthcare.gov

Maybe it’s because of the way the law is structured. Maybe it’s because there isn’t profit to be made.

Whatever the reason, many young people eligible for the benefit have no idea free health insurance is waiting for them.

If you aged out of the foster care system you can get free health insurance until age 26

Kimberly Waller, a researcher at the University of Michigan Law School, says it’s an issue of fairness.

“Advocates started realizing, 'Hey, people can stay on their parent’s plan until they’re 26,'” she said. “Well, what happens when the state is your parent?”

When the state is your parent you should now be able to get on it's plan-that's Medicaid-until age 26. But states don’t have to do any outreach about this part of the law. Waller says many young people have no idea they’re eligible. "A right is only empowering if you know about it," she said.

Foster care advocates around the state have been trying to get the word out, but they say many young people still don’t know.

Signing up isn't always easy, but that could be changing

Kamille Tynes aged out of foster care in Michigan. She’s 23 now and in college. Tynes is good at moving through the ins and outs of government programs. Even for her, the process has been confusing.

“I initially applied through,what is it? The market health care something website," Tynes remembered.

That would be heathcare.gov, and it's the wrong place to apply. In Michigan, former foster youth need to apply for healthcare through the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the MIBridges website. Tynes tried again through DHS and was denied before finally getting signed up months later.

Tynes is not the only one who has had problems signing up. Foster care advocates have been drawing attention to glitches and problems. Now,  DHS has just appointed a person, Leslie Adams, to help.

Adams is available to help anyone who has questions about the Medicaid extension or is stuck. She can be contacted at AdamsL4@michigan.gov.

Tips from advocates to make it through the application

The process to sign up for extended Medicaid may be getting easier for those starting the process now, but knowing what lies ahead in the application can still move it along more quickly.

Who qualifies?

It’s helpful to know that to qualify for the Medicaid extension young people in Michigan only need two things to be true:

  • In foster care, in any state, at age 18
  • Had Medicaid while they were in foster care

On the MIBridges health care application the question about being in foster care is a check box several pages into the application. There is also a question asking if those in foster care were getting Medicaid at age 18. Almost everyone should be checking this box, but some probably aren't. This could slow down the application.

All kids in foster care in Michigan should automatically be getting Medicaid, even if they weren't visiting a doctor. The only exception are young people who aged out of the juvenile justice system. Those young people should contact Leslie Adams at DHS.

Questions about money

Money should have nothing to do with this Medicaid extension. The income guidelines for Medicaid don't apply to former foster care youth.

The Medicaid application still makes everyone, even former foster youth, answer all of the income questions on the Medicaid application. The answers to these questions shouldn’t matter, but there have been reports of some glitches. If there’s trouble, contact a foster care advocate or Leslie Adams at DHS.

Do former foster youth need to reapply for Medicaid every year?

They do not. Once a young person is signed up for the Medicaid extension it should last until age 26. If a former foster care youth is asked to re-apply by mistake they should contact Leslie Adams at DHS.

What happens to young people moving out of state?

Michigan is offering health insurance to young people that age out of the foster care system in Michigan or any other state.

Not all states are doing the same. Former foster youth leaving Michigan should contact DHS in the state where they are moving and ask about health insurance options.