COVID-19 response causes delay in DCFS YouthCare program launch

The launch of a Department of Children and Family Services youth health care program has been delayed for at least 30 days, in light of the challenges presented by COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and DCFS announced this week that YouthCare, a specialized health-care program for children in foster care, is on hold while medical service providers respond to the global spread of COVID-19.

The program was slated to launch April 1. In the interim, children within the state's foster care system will continue to receive coverage for health care under Medicaid fee-for-service.

Delaying the roll-out will allow DCFS to remain focused on addressing the emerging challenges of COVID-19 and ensure a smooth transition to YouthCare in the months ahead, Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith said in an official statement issued Wednesday.

“The safety and health of the children we serve is, and always will be, my top priority,” Smith said. “The transition to Managed Care will improve the coordination and access to health services for youth in care. But addressing the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 outbreak must be a priority at the moment."

Letters will be sent to families and group homes informing them of the delay. In coordination with the Illinois Department of Public Health and stakeholders across the state, HFS and DCFS will announce a new transition date as a more definite timeline is established.

On March 11, the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian urged officials to postpone the managed care plan, which covers the 17,000 children in DCFS care, Public Guardian Charles Golbert said in an email this week.

"Among other arguments, we pointed to the unprecedented health care crisis and strain on our health delivery system due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)," Golbert said. "This morning, citing the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus, DCFS and DHFS announced that they are delaying the MCO plan for children and youth in DCFS care for at least 30 days. This is without question the prudent decision. We applaud the delay."

Both the Illinois HFS and DCFS offices have been working closely with the ACLU and other stakeholders to bolster several aspects of the program’s operations. As of Wednesday, YouthCare offered more than three times as many medical providers as the current DCFS health-care system, according to a news release. More than 90% of major providers in the current system already have joined YouthCare, which offers access to hospitals, primarily care physicians, vision, and dental providers.

During the delay, YouthCare staff and the Rapid Response system will remain available by phone at 844-289-2264 or online by visiting ILYouthCare@centene.com.