Here’s Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout’s latest newsletter discussing the changes to Family Care and IRIS proposed by Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial state budget.

“You have got to be kidding!”
Advocate Respond to Privatizing Family Care and IRIS

“You have got to be kidding!” a Chippewa Valley advocate responded when I told her about a plan to potentially turn Family Care over to a for-profit insurance company.

Family Care and its fee-for-service sister, IRIS, provide thousands of Medicaid-eligible frail elderly and disabled people the help they need to remain in their homes. Services could include help getting places; keeping a job; managing money; preparing meals; keeping healthy; bathing and dressing.

People who benefit from Family Care or IRIS might easily end up in an expensive institution. Personal care and other workers help them stay in their own home – and many times – stay gainfully employed.

If the current version of the governor’s budget becomes law, it will mean big changes to care for frail elderly and disabled people of modest means. For the rest of us, it could mean many more of our neighbors and family members end up in expensive institutions. Worse yet, folks could be stranded at home without the services they need to independently live and work.

Buried in the mammoth state budget is the elimination of IRIS as we know it. IRIS serves more than 11,000 people statewide. The philosophy of the program is in its name: Include, Respect, I Self-direct. People hire their own workers who perform many tasks including meal preparation, bathing, and getting people to work.

As Jason Endres of Eau Claire told me, “Without these services, the way IRIS provides, it would prevent us from being part of our community.”

Also eliminated are local centers to assist elderly and disabled people find services. Known as Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), these publically run centers would close and their citizen oversight boards disband. They could be reopened by a private company but with no requirement to be conveniently located or to tell people about all the services for which they may qualify. For example, the woman I wrote about in last week’s column who is served by SeniorCare, said without the help of local ADRC staff she would not have known about SeniorCare.

Family Care is a managed care program serving over 40,000 elderly, physically disabled, and developmentally disabled folks. A large number of developmentally disabled people use Family Care in the Chippewa Valley because of the closure of Northern Center. Services such as residential homes, mental health services and job coaches help folks stay in the community. Local providers work with non-profit Managed Care Organizations that oversee service delivery.

Services are tailored to the needs of the individual as determined by an independently completed functional assessment. This way services are based on the needs of the individual and not on what the provider has available.

Changes in the budget would eliminate most of the Managed Care Organizations. Their job could be taken over by a very large for-profit insurance company. Budget language gives the state Department of Health (DHS) authority to hire the insurance company in a no-bid contract and removes any legislative oversight of the contract between DHS and the insurance company.

This new insurance company could become the gatekeeper for all medical, rehabilitative, personal living and employment services for over 50,000 people (DHS enrollment numbers from 2014).

In essence, every service needed by the disabled or frail elderly person of modest means would need approval by potentially one for-profit insurance company.

“This takes the personal choice right out of it,” an Eau Claire woman told me.

It also makes it more likely people will not receive the care they need. Insurance companies are very good at denying care and shifting the cost of care to patients and families.

Jason said to me, “One for-profit, national insurance company in a no-bid contract? It makes me very sad. It’s no longer about local choices. It’s about big business making decisions about very personal things.”

Advocates are working hard to save these important programs. People can learn more at www.saveiris.org. Jason reminded me to thank Amber and Nancy for this awesome website. Check it out. You’ll see Amber, Jason and read many more amazing stories.

12 Responses to Sen. Kathleen Vinehout: “You have got to be kidding!” Advocate Respond to Privatizing Family Care and IRIS

  1. John Casper says:

    Zach, thanks for covering this. From the folks who brought you privatized prisons, here’s another way for Gov. Walker and the oligarchs to “monetize” the elderly, use them to loot Medicaid and Medicare. For-profit corporations have a responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profit. These “clients” in the aging baby-boomer population should be taken care of by not-for-profits whose mission is more explicitly aligned with a “public purpose.”

    • Duane12 says:

      Do you think that a “president” Walker would privatize the Army, Navy, and our other armed forces? Wow, would I like that contract!

      Remember when Walker privatized the Milwaukee County courthouse guards? What a disaster; fortunately a judge declared his seizing of power was illegal. To compound his hare-brained and illegal scheme, the dude Walker hired to supervise the private guards was a convicted felon. Ouch! Worse, the Milwaukee County tax payers picked up the tab to pay off the two contracts for Walker’s duplication of guards at the County court house. I don’t know how Walker evaded paying for his mistake. I guess it’s similar to the Wisconsin taxpayer paying for the incompetent operation and failure of Walker’s privatization of the Commerce Department, WEDC. And no need to recount the Doe investigation and subsequent convictions involving Walker’s “cronies” with its cost to the taxpayer and theft from veterans.

      How much longer can Wisconsin tolerate the abuse of power, the expensive failures, the lack of vision. the rash judgements. the incompetence, the criminality, immorality, and vanity of a zealot or extremist with a false conscience who lacks the educational requirements for holding a high public office such as a governor ?

      • John Casper says:

        (Do you think that a “president” Walker would privatize the Army, Navy, and our other armed forces? Wow, would I like that contract!)

        I would argue George W. Bush already did. Middle East occupations trade the blood of U.S. soldiers for Exxon, BP, and other western oil corps to steal their oil corps. As a bonus, the occupations really helped the stock prices of the our immense military/industrial complex. In Wisconsin, afaik, see Oshkosh, as the corp that probably gets the most military contracts.

        (Remember when Walker privatized the Milwaukee County courthouse guards? What a disaster; fortunately a judge declared his seizing of power was illegal. To compound his hare-brained and illegal scheme, the dude Walker hired to supervise the private guards was a convicted felon. Ouch! Worse, the Milwaukee County tax payers picked up the tab to pay off the two contracts for Walker’s duplication of guards at the County court house. I don’t know how Walker evaded paying for his mistake. I guess it’s similar to the Wisconsin taxpayer paying for the incompetent operation and failure of Walker’s privatization of the Commerce Department, WEDC. And no need to recount the Doe investigation and subsequent convictions involving Walker’s “cronies” with its cost to the taxpayer and theft from veterans.

        How much longer can Wisconsin tolerate the abuse of power, the expensive failures, the lack of vision. the rash judgements. the incompetence, the criminality, immorality, and vanity of a zealot or extremist with a false conscience who lacks the educational requirements for holding a high public office such as a governor ?)

        As per usual, very well said.

  2. Sylvia Ruiz-lee says:

    why??? I just have one question…why? Why bother to get into public office, voted into office, and then decide you don’t want to serve…you don’t want to listen…you don’t want to work to implement what the people need…Why? Why bother? Why lift your head in the morning…head out to the office…to do What…What did you perceive your job to be if not to do your homework, study and learn the best way possible to service your constituents…I don’t get it …why the effort of campaigning…going thru an election…what are your goals? … what are you trying to accomplish if not to make that person’s life better? You could have gone into any other profession…why this one? I would really appreciate an answer…enquiring minds want to know

  3. EmmaR says:

    She really sticks up for the vulnerable, poor and voiceless. I bet Republican business owners and voters in her district absolutely loathe her.

  4. nonquixote says:

    Obviously smaller, leaner government meant full dictatorship. Prevailing wage, coming next on the chopping block. And then with local government squeezed to near oblivion on severely reduced shared revenues creating more chaos, Walker’s lieutenants will be instituting (ALEC) rules for private takeovers of failing municipalities (on the Detroit model) as soon as the crippling budget is passed. Oh wait, there may be a short break for summer recess before the next hammer in Walker’s toolbox falls.

  5. rnprn says:

    As a RN who has worked for both a Family Care non-profit and a Medicaid HMO, this would be the worse thing that could happen to Family Care. There needs to be some belt tighting in FC, but giving it to Walker’s donors will just be another massive failure for our state.

  6. Bob Young says:

    I left two messages and none were posted. So, that’s how ya are! Iowaboybobbob@gmail.com

  7. Bob Young says:

    Why is Wisconsin tolerating this charlatan, in the Governors Office? He’s dead as a Presidential Candidate or is he being thrown to the Wolf-ms. Clinton. In a gerrymandered state like WI, his ideas are as foreign to Progressives as anywhere in the US, except the Southern States! Don’t believe the lies!

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