Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he wants to lift an enrollment cap and expand state programs designed to keep people out of nursing homes as efforts to recall him gather momentum.
Wis. gov wants to lift cap on Family Care programs
Walker, a Republican, imposed a ceiling on enrollment in the state's Family Care programs in the state budget that took effect July 1. Republican lawmakers contended during the budget debate that the programs, available in 57 of the state's 72 counties, were growing too rapidly.
But on Wednesday, Walker said at a news conference that ongoing talks with program providers have identified $80 million in efficiencies that will enable his administration to end the enrollment cap and expand the programs to the 15 counties that currently don't offer them.
The Legislature would have to approve the move by passing a bill, but that's all but certain; Republicans control the state Senate and Assembly and minority Democrats support Family Care.
Walker said the cap was always meant as a "time out" to reassess Family Care, not as a permanent freeze.
Family Care is part of the Medicaid system. Its programs are designed to provide long-term care for the disabled and elderly to help keep them out of nursing homes. Thousands of people are on waiting lists to get into the programs.
This past fall Walker's administration proposed a total of about $554 million in Medicaid cuts to deal with rising costs and exploding enrollment. Those changes could result in as many as 65,000 poor adults and children leaving state health insurance programs because they would no longer be eligible or they could no longer afford coverage.
Momentum to recall Walker over his contentious collective bargaining law stripping most public workers of nearly all their union rights has been growing. Two weeks ago recall organizers announced they had collected 507,533 of the 540,208 signatures they need by Jan. 17 to trigger an election.
Advocates for the disabled praised Walker's announcement.
"Today's announcement by the governor that the caps will be lifted is what we were hoping for," Lynn Breedlove, executive director of Disability Rights Wisconsin, said in a statement.
Democrats, meanwhile, accused Walker of trying to remake himself into a defender of health care access as the recall looms.
"It's hypocrisy and grandstanding," state Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski said.
Walker's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, denied any connection between the recall drive and the Family Care changes. He pointed out that the governor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper in June the cap might be modified or dropped later this year.
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