Hearing Yields Skepticism, Praise For Planned Changes To Long-Term Care

Family Care And IRIS Programs Would Be Combined Under Integrated Health Agencies


A public hearing in Eau Claire Monday morning about proposed changes to Wisconsin’s long-term care programs brought guarded praise, but also concerns from those caring for the elderly and disabled.

The Department of Health Services is in the process of overhauling the Family Care and IRIS programs, with a plan to combine medical and long-term care services under integrated health agencies (also known as IHAs). Critics worry the redesign will put taxpayer dollars meant for the care of vulnerable citizens into the pocket of large insurance companies.

Others at the hearing — including John Nousaine, the executive director of North Country Independent Living — were skeptical whether integrated health agencies will save the state money.

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“You have a big IHA that has a contract with some place downstate, and you save $200 on your power wheelchair — and as soon as it breaks, you can’t get any service. It’s up to you to get it down there. You’re losing money,” Nousaine said.

Several speakers asked that changes be phased in or tried on a small scale before going statewide.

Janet Zander, with Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, Inc., said advocates are pleased to see that people would still be able to direct their care under the redesign.

“It is very important, as you know, for the 60,000 people currently involved in the services — and the many more potentially to come — to know that their voice is being heard,” she said.

Jason Endres of Eau Claire disagreed. He has spina bifida — a spinal cord defect — and is in the IRIS program.

“You guys hear us, but you are not listening. You are not listening to what we want, what we need,” he said.

Others objected to rules that prevent family members from being both caregiver and guardian. Bill Hanna, Department of Health Services Assistant Deputy Secretary, tried to ease their concern.

“As a department, we agree that family is an important caregiver. We are working with our legal team to find ways to allow family members to provide care to your loved ones,” said Hanna.

Others said limiting the hours of hired, nonfamily caregivers would result in shortages of people willing to work.