Our Views: It’s time to also expand Family Care to Rock County

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rock County officials must feel like they’ve been enduring this start-and-stop spring for years when it comes to enacting Family Care here. One day is warm and sunny; the next is  chilly and dreary.

The state has given Rock County the cold shoulder again. Gov. Scott Walker announced last week that his administration wants to spread Family Care to seven more counties clustered around Green Bay’s Brown County. If the Legislature approves—given Republican control, that seems certain—Rock County will be one of just eight on the waiting list. The others are as close as Dane and as far as Florence on the Upper Peninsula border.

Family Care creates a one-stop shop of long-term, community-based services for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. By offering comprehensive, flexible services such as meals, medicines and wheelchair ramps, the program builds bridges to independence that allow people to stay in their homes. Studies show government spends much more money when people wind up in nursing homes. Family Care also allows people to stay more active in their communities.

In 2008, then-Gov. Jim Doyle told Rock County officials to be ready to enact Family Care by 2010. When the economy slumped, the county asked the state to delay implementation until 2011. The state capped expansion that year after an audit raised oversight questions, but last year, the Rock County Aging and Disability Resource Center opened here. The center was a prerequisite to Family Care.

As Catherine W. Idzerda reported Friday, the Rock County Developmental Disabilities Board and Long Term Support Programs now serve these residents. They use federal medical assistance and local tax dollars. Under Family Care, the federal money flows to a managed care service organization. Besides saving money, the aim is to improve services, remove the burden from counties and eliminate waiting lists.

Some question Family Care’s value. Critics fear it might reduce reimbursement rates to care providers or replace Community Options, which is also designed to save tax dollars and ensure that only the truly needy wind up in nursing homes.

Cindy Simonsen, head of VIP services in Elkhorn, said she feared many of her clients with developmental disabilities would lose services when Walworth County enacted Family Care. She told Idzerda, however, that some did lose hours while others gained, and the changes haven’t been dramatic.

Family Care services can be modified as needed. Besides, Phil Boutwell, Rock County’s deputy director of human services, said in 2011 that county officials favored Family Care and wanted to move forward.

In an editorial last week, the Green Bay Press-Gazette applauded Family Care’s expansion in that neck of Wisconsin while criticizing the state’s delays. It noted the program has earned repeated praise. It chastised the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for not voting on expansion this year despite a state Department of Health Services report that said: “Managed long-term care is the most effective strategy to meet the needs of Wisconsin’s residents.” Also, the report said expansion would erase waiting lists for services and reduce growth of state spending by $34.7 million in the next 10 years.

Family Care is a proven program that should be available across the state, the Press-Gazette suggested.

Agreed. Rock County is ready, willing and able.

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