WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) announced the introduction of the At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection Act of 2014, legislation that ensures youths who spend time in the juvenile justice system receive the health care they need once they leave. According to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the vast majority of young people who enter the juvenile justice system suffer from at least one form of mental illness. Additionally, many are impacted by multiple disorders that inhibit their ability to function in society once they have served their time. These young people – many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds – desperately need treatment for serious mental illnesses and other health care issues once they leave the juvenile justice system.

Despite these staggering statistics, states oftentimes terminate health coverage for young people in the juvenile justice system. This lack of coverage can last even after they are released from custody, prohibiting them from being able to receive treatment for serious illnesses that can impact others in their community. For example, many states simply fail to restore an eligible young person’s enrollment once they are released from the juvenile justice system. This causes serious gaps in coverage that prevent these children from receiving timely and much-needed health care.

The At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection Act of 2014 would solve this problem by prohibiting states from terminating an eligible child’s Medicaid coverage while in custody. Under this legislation, states would be also be required to ensure that an eligible young person is enrolled in Medicaid once he or she is released from the juvenile justice system. This will allow juveniles to remain covered throughout their time in the juvenile justice system and immediately afterwards.

“There’s no reason for these kids to be denied their basic right to health care,” said Murphy. “Preventing them from getting critical care stunts their development, impacts their community, and might cause them to end up in the system again. I’m proud to introduce the At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection Act to make sure we give these kids the help they need and ultimately prevent future instances of youth incarceration.”

“I am pleased to join my colleagues Senator Murphy and Congressman Cárdenas to support legislation that will help ensure that at-risk youth receive the mental health care treatment they need,” Booker said. “As a nation, we must come together to support all of our youth. That means examining the factors that may be contributing to their behavior and choices and standing in the way of some young people making positive contributions to their communities.”

“If we are trying to rehabilitate these kids and allow them to return to society, they must have the same healthcare protections as any other American,” said Cárdenas. “This is a critical time in their lives. Gaps in mental health services and basic medical care can stunt the rehabilitation they need and make it more likely that they will end up back behind bars, simply because their Medicaid was unnecessarily terminated. That is thoroughly unacceptable to me.”