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Ask NCFY: What Does the Affordable Care Act Mean for Runaway and Homeless Youth?

Photograph of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act.

Q: What are the implications of the Affordable Care Act for runaway and homeless youth?

A: If young people are still in touch with their families and their families have health insurance, the health care law makes it possible for them to be covered by their parents’ plan until age 26.

For those runaway and homeless youth who are on their own and unsupported by their families, you’ll still want to help them find out if they are eligible for Medicaid. Only their own income and not their families’ income should be counted when figuring out whether they are eligible.

For children and teens ages 6 to 18, the health care law requires all states to have a Medicaid eligibility level that is at least 133 percent of the federal poverty level. (Some states had already established higher levels for that age group, while others had not.)

Young adults age 19 and older will have to check their state’s Medicaid eligibility rules. Starting next year, because of the health care law, some states will be expanding Medicaid to cover individuals, including single adults, with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, but others will not.

That means even a young person working fulltime at the federal minimum wage may become eligible for Medicaid, if the eligibility level in their state and for their age group is 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Unaccompanied young people who don’t qualify for Medicaid or have health insurance through an employer will be able to purchase coverage directly on the government’s new Health Insurance Marketplace. Open enrollment will start this fall, and coverage begins next year.

The law also has a provision, sometimes referred to as the “individual mandate,” through which the IRS will be able to collect a fee from people who don’t get health insurance. The IRS payment will not apply to people whose income is too low for them to file taxes ($9,500 this year for an individual) nor to people for whom insurance is unaffordable.

“Virtually any unaccompanied homeless youth would probably be exempt from the individual mandate,” says Abigail English, director of the Center for Adolescent Health & the Law in Chapel Hill, NC, “because their income would be too low for them to be required to file a tax return.”

The IRS regulations regarding the payments are open for public comment until May 2, 2013.

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