As we gear up for the next open enrollment period, it’s worth revisiting the ACA’s provision for former foster youth. Thanks to the ACA, youth who age out of foster care are eligible for Medicaid up to age 26; you can read more about the details of this part of the law here. Although this provision is not quite as expansive as we might have hoped—states are not required to offer Medicaid eligibility to youth who aged out in a different state—it is a significant step forward in supporting a vulnerable population. That said it is up to us to maximize the law’s impact through outreach, education, and enrollment.

Each year, about 20,000 young people age out of foster care. We must ensure that we keep up the drumbeat of outreach to these youth, both as they make the transition to independent living and also later, in the event that their coverage has lapsed. Children’s Action Alliance has done a fantastic job engaging with youth in Arizona to promote Medicaid eligibility for former foster youth, both through written materials and peer-to-peer education opportunities.

The Arizona Youth Opportunities Initiative (AYOI), a project of Children’s Action Alliance, is focused on connecting young people who have experienced foster care to the critical resources they need to be successful in adulthood. Affordable health care is a key asset young people need to be physically and mentally ready for life’s journey.

AYOI partnered with young adults to create a Health Care Toolkit. The toolkit contains a fact sheet, frequently asked questions, an outreach card encouraging youth to enroll, and a brochure on how young adults in Arizona can qualify and sign up for health care coverage under the new ACA provision. Through a network of partners, including community colleges, universities, behavioral health organizations, health care clinics, child welfare agencies, and the state Department of Child Safety, the AYOI distributed thousands of brochures and handout cards to help promote enrollment. Moreover, at the annual Arizona Young Adult State Conference, each young adult received enrollment information in their conference backpacks.

AYOI also trained community providers and matched agencies that serve transitioning youth with specific community agencies who assist people in completing health care applications, so these agencies can facilitate a warm handoff and youth can get direct and personal enrollment assistance.

Additionally, AYOI has used its Facebook page, email distribution list, and blog to help spread the word about who qualifies for Medicaid and where to enroll. Currently, the Initiative is working with its Young Adult Leadership Board to create a resource website that will also include critical health care information.

By engaging and empowering former foster youth to participate in developing outreach materials and using a variety of distribution channels to promote outreach, AYOI has ensured that former foster youth in Arizona know about their eligibility for Medicaid and have the resources they need to get covered. We encourage other advocates to check out Arizona’s toolkit and consider replicating a version that works for their state!

Kate Lewandowski, Senior Policy Analyst
Meghan Arrigo, Manager, Arizona Youth Opportunities Initiative