Advocates say Walker's budget could harm programs for disabled

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Possible cuts to programs that help those with disabilities live independently are raising concerns.

Under Gov. Scott Walker's budget request, all long-term care programs, except for Family Care, would be cut.

However, advocates of those with disabilities say the impact the proposal will have on long-term care users may be devastating.

Family Care is a program that oversees long-term care services for the disabled, injured and elderly through Medicaid.

Walker's proposed budget would expand the state's Family Care program while discontinuing other long-term care programs.

The proposal would also cut $14 million in family care funding over the next two years.

They’re cuts that have advocates of those with disabilities, like Sara Zwiefelhofter, the adult service coordinator with United Cerebral Palsy, worried.

“So many of the adults that we serve through UCP use the IRIS program as a way to help fund their ability to stay at home, and live the life that they want to live, and make the choices that they want to make,” said Zwiefelhofter. “We all like to make our own choices for our own life and the IRIS plan allows you to do that which other options may not allow.”

Julie Endres is among thousands living with a disability in Wisconsin using long-term care.

“It allows me to stay in my home and to have people come in to help with cleaning and meal prep,” said Endres.

Endres has cerebral palsy and is one of 11,000 using the IRIS program, or Include, Respect, I Self-Direct, to manage her own care.

“By hiring my own person and being able to pay them as long as it fits in my budget, it's the consistency and the quality is higher,” explained Endres.

However, with the governor proposing to cut all long-term care programs, except for family care, in an effort to save the state $33 million over the next two years, IRIS may be eliminated.

Teri Buros the CEO of ContinUs, a long-term care service provider for five counties including Eau Claire and Chippewa, says it may also be cut.

“The budget eliminates us by July 30, 2017,” said Buros.

Buros says she believes the proposed expansion of Family Care would be difficult to execute by the Jan. 1, 2017 deadline.

“I'm concerned with the speed with which this is coming up, with no definition of what it's moving to. I'm concerned with the vulnerability of the folks that we serve,” said Buros.

While Buros says expanding the program to include the state's 72 counties, not just the current 57, is a positive move, she has questions as to how the statewide system would work.

“How is all of that going to happen in 18 months? Who's going to provide that care,” questioned Buros.

Although the proposal sets out to be more inclusive, Endres says getting rid of programs like IRIS may actually drop her through the cracks of the system.

“I don't qualify for the other portions of the long-term care program because I'm too independent,” explained Endres.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health Services says the changes are meant to stop fraud and abuse in the existing system.

However, Endres says the system already has measures in place to prevent abuse.



 
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