I was dismayed to read the recent Journal-Sentinel article on Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to dismantle the highly successful Wisconsin Family Care (WFC). I have studied long term care and health care services for older and disabled younger adults for close to 35 years. I can say without qualification that the WFC program is one of the very finest long term care programs in operation now anywhere in the United States.
Long term care has proven to be a serious challenge for most states as they prepare for the largest growth in their older populations in the history of the country. Wisconsin, under Governor Tommy Thompson, had the foresight to begin addressing this challenge in the late 1990s with the development of the WFC program. The success of the WFC program in shifting long term care services to the community and away from nursing home care and improving the quality of primary care for WFC members makes it a model for other states as they prepare to better meet the long term care and health needs of their disabled populations.
The extraordinary cost-effectiveness of the WFC program and its strong support by beneficiaries and their caregivers have not proven sufficient to keep the Walker Administration from proposing to dismantle the program and hand the pieces over to for-profit insurance companies. Administration spokespersons justify this reckless proposal by repeating unsubstantiated insurance company claims that they can save the state money and better integrate long term care and primary care for beneficiaries. The fact is that WFC has proven over many years of practice that the non-profit, community-based organizations that now administer the states publicly funded long term care system have done an extremely good job and are well prepared to meet the needs of Wisconsin’s older and disabled population for decades to come.
WFC has dramatically reduced the dependency of the state on nursing homes by opening up a wide range of more person centered, high quality community-based long term care services since 2000. Why would policymakers now want to put this great achievement at grave risk by handing their long term care services over to for-profit insurance companies whose promises of greater cost-effectiveness compare poorly to Wisconsin Family Care’s proven successes over the last 16 years?
A major reason for the great success of WFC is that residents of communities all across Wisconsin feel as if they have an important stake in the care of their disabled neighbors and that this same quality of locally accountable care will be there for them and their loved ones when they need it. This is very different from trying to deal with a for-profit corporate entity headquartered out of state and whose priority mission is to increase shareholder value. WFC is designed to put resources back into the community by expanding and improving services rather than extracting resources in the form of profit. In short, WFC not only provides efficient and high quality long term care services, it also helps strengthen communities and gives residents a sense of control over their own lives.
The proposal to convert Wisconsin’s outstanding long term care program into a profit-making opportunity for insurance companies is not in the interests of those who need services nor those paying taxes to support them. The people of Wisconsin should be extremely proud of what they have achieved with Wisconsin Family Care and should strongly oppose this effort to make it unavailable to future generations of aging and disabled Wisconsinites.
Larry Polivka, Ph.D.