The At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection Act will ensure that kids continue to receive much-needed health care upon release

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and co-author of the recently-passed Mental Health Reform Act, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reintroduced their At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection Act on Thursday – legislation to ensure that children who spend time in the juvenile justice system continue to receive much-needed health care coverage and treatments after their release from custody. The bill will prohibit all states from terminating an eligible child’s Medicaid coverage, and instead require states to automatically restore a child’s enrollment in a medical assistance plan upon his or her release from custody. 

Many children in the juvenile justice system rely on Medicaid, but too many states automatically terminate those kids’ Medicaid enrollment upon entry to the juvenile justice system, causing serious gaps in coverage. The process to re-apply for Medicaid once the child is released from custody can take months, which unfairly denies children access to their medication and to critical mental health and substance abuse treatment. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as many as 70% of children in the juvenile justice system suffer from a mental disorder.

“Kids involved in the juvenile justice system are as many as eight times more likely than other kids to have a diagnosable mental health disorder. That’s a fact,” said Murphy. “But states too often leave these kids without a fair shot at leading a normal, productive life by terminating their Medicaid coverage and making it nearly impossible for them to get medication and treatment when they’re released from custody. Our bill will close this gap in coverage, and make sure that kids maintain access to the medication and mental health treatments they need.”

“Our juvenile justice system needs to do a better job of helping kids re-enter society and lead productive lives,” Booker said. “A critical component of that process is ensuring kids get the health care they need. But right now a huge gap exists because too many states automatically terminate a kid’s Medicaid coverage when he or she enters the juvenile justice system. Our bill provides a common-sense fix to this challenge, removing a key barrier at-risk youth face on the road to re-entering society.”

U.S. Representatives Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) are introducing a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection Act will help ensure that children receive health care immediately upon their release by:

  • Prohibiting states from terminating enrollment for eligible youth in state plans for medical assistance while in custody;
  •  Requiring states to automatically restore enrollment in medical assistance plans upon release by taking all necessary steps to ensure that enrollment is effective upon release;
  • Requiring states to process applications for medical assistance submitted by or on behalf of a child;
  • Making access to medical assistance for children under foster care consistent with the Affordable Care Act by extending the age of eligibility to 26.