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Health care for foster and adopted children is a real concern

One of my last memories of living with my mother was of her hauling my six siblings and me in a kids’ red wagon to a corner grocery store in the city’s Fox Park neighborhood. The trip felt wildly urgent to her. She was obsessed with our eating a healthy diet.

Shortly thereafter, my siblings and I were sent to live in foster care. We never went back home. I was 7. The obsession with fresh fruits and vegetables was partly because she loved us so and wanted what was best, and partly because she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

As I read about the various attempts to replace Obamacare in Congress, I’m left wondering if our elected officials in Washington have forgotten about children like me, children like my brothers and sisters, who are left at the mercy of adult strangers. For politicians, it seems like Medicaid is a toy, the ultimate proverbial political football. For us, Medicaid was a lifeline.

Four of us stayed in foster care for 10 years, moving from home to home. When children are exposed to chronic stressful events, their neurodevelopment can be disrupted. As a result, a child’s cognitive functioning or ability to cope with negative or disruptive emotions may be impaired. My siblings and I suffered from a variety of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and attachment disorders. These are common in children who are removed from their homes, separated from siblings and faced with multiple foster placements. Medicaid made it possible for us to get medication and counseling.

The health care bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, and the draft currently before the U.S. Senate, include dramatic cuts to Medicaid, hidden behind bland sounding policies like “per capita caps” and “state block grants.” One of my brothers inherited my mother’s illness. He will need Medicaid his whole life. My three youngest brothers were adopted. They had Medicaid too, and needed it. Many adoptive parents cannot afford the health care needs of adopted children, but can provide a loving home.

Currently, Missouri offers adopted children Medicaid coverage. But, with the proposed caps on federal Medicaid dollars to states, Missouri will be faced with offsetting reduced federal funding by suppressing enrollment of certain populations, such as adopted kids. This could affect the number of families willing to adopt children with costly medical needs.

The caps on federal Medicaid dollars may also force Missouri to make cuts to older foster kids and limit their mental health care — putting us right back to where we were over 20 years ago. In 1997, I “aged out” of foster care at 18 and I lost my Medicaid coverage. I remember having to go without antibiotics during my college years because, despite working three jobs, I just couldn’t afford them. I didn’t have health insurance again until I got my first “real” job after college, at age 23.

Our state has come a long way since then. Now, Missouri covers foster youth until age 26 — something that all parents know is necessary as youth become independent. According to the only national study of youth aging out of foster care, they are more likely to suffer from multiple chronic health conditions. Foster youth need health insurance to help increase their likelihood of a healthy life and to help get them through a developmental stage that requires more support than a child with parents would have.

Any good public policy regarding health care for vulnerable children should increase access to coverage, not take it away. As for me and my siblings, we made it. We work, we have families of our own and we contribute to society. We’re healthy adults, in part because we had the safety net of Medicaid. It gave us a chance.

I urge all Missourians to call Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill to ask them: Please give the thousands of America’s orphaned, foster and adopted children a chance too, as they vote on whatever is put before them to address health care in America.

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