An effort to remove an enrollment cap on Family Care and expand Wisconsin’s long term care assistance program to all counties in the state continues to move slowly at the state Capitol. The measure appears bogged down in the state Assembly because of concerns from Republican lawmakers about whether the state can sustain the cost of a larger program.
An Assembly committee held a hearing Thursday on a bill that removes the cap imposed in the last state budget. The measure also allows the program to be offered in all counties. The state Senate passed the bill unanimously earlier this month, but Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care chairman Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) says he’s taking his time with the measure because of concerns about sustaining that growth.
Knodl says “my biggest fear would be, if we’re to offer benefits and assistance to people, that we’re able to continue to do that and not have to find ourselves in a situation where we then have to take those benefits or assistance away.”
Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Kitty Rhoades says the agency has spent the past several months working to address those concerns, and they believe they have found ways to cut costs in the program and make it more efficient. Rhoades says “it’s the Department’s responsibility to ensure that the benefits in Family Care provide the services that are truly needed.”
Family Care provides financial assistance for the elderly and the disabled, allowing them to receive care at home instead of going to a nursing home or managed care facility. State officials say the program generates massive savings, with the cost of in home care being around $1,300 a month compared to $3,300 for an out of home placement.
The Department of Health Services says the waiting list for the program is currently at about 6,700 people. However, Rhoades says that number is misleading because many of the applicants do not even qualify for the program right now.
A survey of potential enrollees found one-third did not even know their names were on the list. Rhoades says they were likely added by family members who felt they might need the program in a couple of years and wanted to make sure their loved ones names were already in the system.
State Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) is the sponsor of the Assembly version of the bill. He says the program provides a necessary safety net for the public and also reminded committee members that the state could lose federal funding if the cap is not lifted. Federal officials never approved a waiver for the cap and ordered the state in December to immediately remove the limits.
AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:06)