Sherri and Thomas Croom have been foster parents to 27 children — from newborns to teenagers — during the past decade.
That has meant visits to dozens of doctors and dentists for issues ranging from a tonsillectomy to depression.
While foster parenting has innumerable challenges, health care coverage for the children isn’t one of them. Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, picks up the tab for nearly all children in foster care and often continues to cover them if they are adopted, regardless of their parents’ income.
And as a result of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, foster children who have Medicaid at 18 can retain the coverage until they turn 26.
Medicaid is the nation’s largest health program, yet its broad reach beyond traditional populations of low-income children and parents, and people with disabilities is less known. Kaiser Health News is examining how the U.S. has evolved into a “ Medicaid Nation,” where millions of Americans rely on the program, directly and indirectly.
“We would not be able to foster without Medicaid,” said Sherri Croom, 41, of Tallahassee, Florida. “It pays for everything.”
Yet, Croom and other foster parents say that even with the coverage they struggle to meet the extraordinary health needs of their children. Part of the trouble is too few doctors accept Medicaid, most notably mental health specialists.
Families also face the challenge of coordinating treatment decisions between government welfare agencies and foster kids’ biological parents.
Treating effects of abuse and neglect
Although foster care children make up only a tiny portion of the 74 million Americans who receive Medicaid, this population faces significantly more health needs than most enrollees. These children often have experienced abuse, neglect, violence and parental substance abuse. About half of them have been diagnosed with mental health disorders, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.
A 2016 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children in foster care were twice as…
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