December 19, 2014

Letter raises Family Care questions

Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday announced plans for an $80 million expansion of the state’s Family Care program and the end to an enrollment cap. Governor Walker says the move became possible after the state worked with providers to find cost efficiencies in the program, which was set up to help elderly Wisconsinites receive long term care at home instead of in nursing homes.

However, a letter released later in the day shows federal officials had recently ordered the state Department of Health Services to remove the cap. The letter dated December 13th directs the state to identify and enroll any individuals not admitted to the program after the cap took effect on July 1st of this year.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie says the letter was discussing “permanent caps and was part of ongoing communication between DHS and the federal government.” Werwie says the Governor “always planned to lift the cap once the suggestions made by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau were ready to be put in place.”

The cap was included in the state budget approved earlier this year and will require legislative action to remove, as will allowing the program to be offered in all 72 counties in the state. Currently, Family Care is only available in 57 counties.

Wednesday’s announcement was widely applauded by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and several groups representing the elderly.

Joint Finance Committee co-chair Alberta Darling (R-River Falls) offered her support, saying she was thrilled to learn the administration had “found savings that make lifting the cap a possibility.” Senator Darling says she expects it “will be a top bi-partisan legislative priority in the coming year.”

However, fellow JFC co-chair Robin Vos (R-Rochester) expressed concerns about the plan, which will need to pass the powerful budget committee along the way. Vos says “Medicaid took up every single nickel of new revenue that was brought into the current state budget,” and they are being forced to find $500 million in new revenue “just to keep that program on a sustainable path.”

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:05)

Vos says he has “very serious doubts that their assumptions are fact based and not based on the best of wishes” and DHS officials will need to show the cost savings touted by Walker are backed by a detailed analysis to show the program will actually save money. Vos says he’s “very seriously concerned that they are looking to use some funny math to try and make this thing balanced.”