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Long-term care programs for elderly, disabled go statewide

Wisconsin health officials say the state’s long-term care programs for the elderly and disabled will be expanded to all 72 counties by early 2018.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced the expansion of Family Care and IRIS/Include, Respect I Self-Direct to seven more counties over the next 20 months.

In June, the state ditched plans to shift coverage from nonprofit providers to for-profit insurance companies.

In late July, the health department said Family Care and IRIS — programs that help frail, older people and disabled people stay in their own residences and out of nursing homes — would be made available statewide.

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015–17 budget provided for the expansion, which DHS Interim Secretary Tom Engels said would ensure “our most vulnerable citizens have access to high quality services.”

The transition should eliminate the waitlist of more than 500 adults and improve the care of some 3,000 more.

Engels said the “expansion means members all across the state can take advantage of services that offer dignity and independence and allow them to make their own care decisions.”

The programs will be made available in Adams, Florence, Forest, Oneida, Taylor and Vilas counties in 2017 and expanded to Dane County in early 2018.

Aging advocates praised the announcement, made about a week before Walker announced a new health secretary — Linda Seemeyer.

“There will be equal access to these home- and community-based services to all eligible older adults and people with disabilities no matter where they live,” said Robert Kellerman, executive director at the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources. “This final expansion will alleviate waiting lists for services in these counties and eliminate the additional costs associated with running two parallel Medicaid long-term care systems.”

AARP Wisconsin said Family Care and IRIS are popular and also cost-effective programs.

“Family Care is all about giving seniors independence and choices about the services and supports available to meet their needs,” said Sam Wilson, director of AARP Wisconsin. “Everyone deserves access to high quality cost-effective long-term care. By any measure, this program is a win-win for taxpayers and state residents.”

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