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Family Care Bill Passage a Huge Win for Wisconsinites

Wisconsin wins on top 2012 state legislative priority!

AARP Wisconsin volunteers and staff applauded as Governor Scott Walker signed the Family Care bill into law in Milwaukee on March 19.

See also: Moving Toward Family-Centered Care

The state Assembly and Senate passed the bill earlier in March, largely due to a constant and relentless drumbeat of advocacy from AARP volunteers who attended nearly every committee meeting, public hearing and legislative session to help make AARP Wisconsin’s top 2012 legislative priority a reality.

The law allows Family Care – Wisconsin’s long-term care program for low-income elderly and those with disabilities – to add new participants past its July 2011 enrollment level. It also allows for expansion of the program into additional counties.

This is a huge victory for many older Wisconsinites because Family Care is specifically designed to provide alternatives to expensive nursing home and institutional placement while giving individuals and their families choice about long-term care services that most effectively supports their individual needs.

Family Care participants can get assistance with services like personal care, home health care, transportation, nutrition services, and other supports. The program not only keeps people in their homes and communities, but it saves tens of thousands of dollars per person by keeping people out of costly institutional care.

But until the new law passed, Wisconsin had experienced a timeout. Although Family Care was available in 57 Wisconsin counties, expansion to the remaining 15 was on hold. The state decided there would be no new enrollees in any county, except in rare circumstances, and people with long-term care needs were put on waiting lists.

Last summer, Governor Walker and Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith said they were reviewing the program and looking at the most cost-effective way to deliver quality services. That’s when AARP stepped in, providing plenty of evidence that lifting the hold on Family Care was good public policy and the right thing to do.

In the months leading up to the bill’s passage, AARP Wisconsin met with lawmakers, testified at hearings, and stormed the Capitol when Family Care was on the legislature’s agenda. AARP worked with other groups who also supported Family Care to put more pressure on legislators.

The legislation passed with broad bipartisan support. The timing is great because:

  • There are more than 8,000 individuals with disabilities and seniors waiting for long-term supports in Wisconsin.
  • The caps placed in July have caused waiting lists to grow rapidly in counties that had zero people waiting previously.
  • People who do not get proper supports often end up in nursing homes and hospitals, which can cost the state more than twice as much as Family Care.

The Family Care caps needed to be lifted to provide the necessary supports to the most vulnerable people in our state so they can live with dignity in their homes and communities. Without AARP Wisconsin keeping the pressure on lawmakers, who knows where this issue might have ended up?

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