Budget panel rejects changes to SeniorCare
Approves $466M in cuts to Medicaid programs
Written by Scott BauerMADISON — Wisconsin's popular prescription drug program for senior citizens will remain the same under a plan approved Tuesday by the Legislature's budget committee, which rejected proposed changes to the program sought by Gov. Scott Walker.
There was bipartisan support to keep the popular SeniorCare program unchanged, though the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee did agree to cap enrollment for the next two years for Family Care, a program designed to keep people out of nursing homes. Committee members also agreed to make about $466 million in unspecified cuts to other Medicaid programs.
"SeniorCare is the holy grail of public policy," said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
The plan must be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Walker before taking effect.
In his two-year budget plan, Walker wanted to require SeniorCare enrollees to first sign up for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program and use state benefits under SeniorCare as a supplement. That would have saved $15 million over the next two years.
Supporters of the 10-year-old SeniorCare program, which has a history of bipartisan support, said the state program is both less expensive and easier to enroll in and understand than Medicare Part D.
SeniorCare serves about 91,000 residents older than 65, but only 12,000 are also currently enrolled in Medicare Part D. Enrollees are required to pay an annual $30 fee and deductibles based on their average income. After the deductible, the program has a co-pay of $5 for generic drugs and $15 for brand-name drugs.
Medicare Part D costs vary depending on insurance providers, but the average premium cost for Wisconsin plans is $44 a month.
Democrats rallied against Walker's proposed changes to the program, and presented petitions that they said contained 14,000 signatures in support of keeping the program as is. Republican leaders quickly said they also didn't support the governor's changes.
However, the committee did agree with Walker's proposal to cap enrollment in Family Care, a program that provides long-term care options for low-income adults who have developmental or physical disabilities or are frail and elderly. Services currently offered to enrollees wouldn't change and no one in the program now would be kicked out.
Democrats argued that it made more sense to invest in the program to keep people out of nursing homes and other services that cost more than Family Care.
But Republicans argued that Family Care was rapidly growing — it cost $250 million in 2006, but expected to cost $1.4 billion in each of the next two years — and must be put on hold.
How Family Care Played Out
This is what I observed during the joint finance committee hearing.
Jauch asked the finance bureau how much Walker planned for nursing homes in the budget, it was $4,000 a month, per person, they expect to spend 36 million, I believe it would for three years under the proposed budget. 36 million is already in this budget, to as Jauch said 'to warehouse' instead of letting them stay in their homes, which saves money! This is contrary to Dennis Smiths comments about wanting people to self direct their care including staying at home with their families. This also shows we are not broke. Tamara Grigsby said this: "we are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable." Instead of offering peace of mind to the most vulnerable, the Republicans offer institutionalized care.The Republicans push to privatize everything is coming into clear view and the effects it will have on the State will be dramatic and I fear, traumatizing.