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Michael Piraino

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The Affordable Care Act: Good News for Former Foster Youth

Posted: 07/03/2012 12:57 pm

Last week, the United States Supreme Court found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional. The decision was cause for much dissent around the country. Many people celebrated the ruling. Many others expressed their anger and dismay.

People can have a legitimate disagreement about the wisdom of the health care reform law. The finding of the Supreme Court will no doubt be bounced around in the presidential election debates.

What I hope would be neither partisan nor divisive is one small but important provision: because of the Act, former foster youth may continue to have Medicaid coverage until they turn 26.

Why does this matter?

These are young people for whom we -- and by this I mean all of civil society -- have taken responsibility. They have been removed from their homes primarily because they could no longer live there safely. Some are fortunate enough to find a permanent, loving home where they can thrive. But others are not: they grow up in foster care or group homes.

Every year, some 26,000 young people who live in foster homes or group homes turn 18 (or in some states, 21) and "age out" of the system. Overnight, crucial support vanishes. Gone is the financial support paid to their foster parents or group homes on their behalf. Gone is any consistent, responsible adult presence or guidance. Gone is their health care coverage.

These youth face incredibly long odds if they have to try and succeed on their own during their late teens and early 20s. The label "former foster youth" makes it hard for them to get jobs or rent apartments. For them, there is a high risk of becoming homeless. We know these young people have a low rate of college entry, and even if they are admitted to college, many do not complete a degree.

It is both compassionate and less expensive for taxpayers to ensure that young adults who grew up in foster care have some basic support during this crucial formative period. One key to this support is health care coverage.

I am no expert in the ins and outs of health care reform. I can see why reasonable minds differ on some provisions of the law. But not when it comes to former foster youth, who desperately want to succeed, and who need care and support that their families are not in a position to provide.

 

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