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Kedzie (click for larger version)
March 07, 2012 | 07:32 AM
Often times, as we grow older, we may not be able to physically do what we used to do. For many of our aging population, and those with physical and developmental disabilities, common activities such as personal care or simple home tasks are difficult to accomplish. While much of this needed help may come from family members, some comes from professional caregivers, which some may simply not be able to afford.

To address that concern, Wisconsin enacted a new long-term care system called Family Care back in 1998. Family Care was created to better serve frail older adults and adults with physical or developmental disabilities. Specifically, Family Care was designed to provide cost-effective, flexible, and comprehensive long-term care to foster individual independence and quality of life, while also recognizing the need for interdependence and support.

The program began in five counties in 1999 and has since grown to 57 counties. In addition to Family Care, Wisconsin's Medicaid program also includes traditional Medicaid, BadgerCare Plus, and SeniorCare. Since 1999, public assistance programs have greatly expanded, and in fact, one of every five Wisconsin residents is on some type of Medical Assistance. There are currently more than one million enrollees in the state's Medical Assistance programs, and the numbers continue to rise. Obviously, this expansion has a significant impact on the state's finances.

Over the last 20 years, the total population of Wisconsin has increased 16 percent, but Medicaid enrollment has jumped 156 percent. Medicaid pays for 45 percent of all births in the state and one out of every three children are now on Medicaid. With the number of residents on Medicaid skyrocketing, state government has been looking for ways to continue to fund the program as it expands. Medicaid expenditures totaled $7.5 billion in fiscal year 2010-11, up from $5 billion in fiscal year 2006-07. In addition, the end of federal stimulus funding partly explains the current fiscal crisis.

Federal funding for Medicaid was $1.33 billion less in 2011-13 than in 2009-11, and as a result, more general fund tax dollars are needed just to maintain current Medicaid funding. Even with the infusion of $1.2 billion of additional state funding provided in the current state budget, there needs to be a way to keep the program in balance with the anticipated revenue coming into the state, which has been lacking due to the slowdown in the state and national economy.

Wisconsin is not alone in this situation, as states all across the nation are dealing with a similar Medicaid shortfall. Recently, the Governor of Illinois announced his intent to cut $2.7 billion in Medicaid costs in order to help the state's deteriorating financial condition. That action could reduce services and types of care available for the state and federal program to provide health care to the poor.

Because of the current funding crisis for Medicaid in Wisconsin, a cap on enrollment in the Family Care program was enacted through June 30, 2013. The cap was necessary in order to fully fund those in the program while allowing the state Department of Health Services (DHS) the time it needed to find savings and efficiencies in the Family Care and other Medicaid programs.

Fortunately, those savings and efficiencies were found and the governor has since announced his intent to remove the cap on Family Care. However, because such removal requires legislative action, Senate Bill 380 was introduced. The bill removes the cap on enrollment in long-term care programs and also allows for the expansion of Family Care. The Senate passed SB 380 last month with unanimous support.

Family Care is a necessary and worthwhile program to help keep the elderly and those with disabilities in a more independent living situation and setting. As the state continues to find savings in the Medicaid program, the Legislature remains committed to helping citizens who truly are in need.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free 1 (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or on-line at www.senatorkedzie.com


Tags: Neal Kedzie

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