Republicans on the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted on Wednesday to approve changes to the state’s popular long-term care programs, after modifying a more sweeping set of recommendations from GOP Governor Scott Walker. Democrats on the budget panel opposed the moves.
“If it’s not broken, don’t break it,” said Representative Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh).
Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said that Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee said earlier this month they would reject the governor’s changes to long-term care, while pursuing limited reforms.
“That’s legislative speak for ‘we’re going to reject what the governor proposed, but not really,” Erpenbach said.
Wednesday’s 12-4 vote sets the stage for significant changes to the Family Care and IRIS programs which provide home care for thousands of elderly and disabled state residents. The GOP action will allow the Walker administration to apply for a federal voucher to implement those changes, which will include combining long-term care and regular preventative care within Family Care.
Finance committee co-chair, Representative John Nygren, insisted that the motion from his members is different from what the governor’s proposed budget language.
“First of all, we’re requiring that stakeholders be part of the conversation,” Nygren said. “Any type of reforms of this magnitude, I believe and I think the whole committee does, that there needs to be that conversation.”
Democrats said any changes to Family Care and IRIS are unacceptable, and not what the public wants.
“Why would you do this? Why would you sell out the people of the state of Wisconsin who need these programs so desperately,” said Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “They told us this during public hearings, ‘don’t change these programs.”
“We feel like this is actually going to actually be an improvement,” said Representative Dean Knudson (R-Hudson). “There will be better planning, better coordination to mean better health care outcomes.”
Opponents said the changes will lead to a shift in care, from regional non-profits to large insurance companies.
“This new plan is just the Governor’s proposal in sheep’s clothing,” said Lynn Breedlove of the Wisconsin Long-term Care Coalition. “Thousands of people expressed opposition to dismantling the current system, but the Legislature is doing it anyway. This violates the trust between the Legislature and the public.”