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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) held a press conference Wednesday to take credit for lifting caps on a Family Care program designed to keep elderly people out of nursing homes. What he didn't include in the press event was that the caps he is lifting are caps that he imposed and that he's only lifting them because the federal government ordered him to do so. In an earlier interview, he said he put the caps in place before he knew that more people would need care and that he didn't want some counties to have better care than other counties.
Federal health officials have quietly ordered Gov. Scott Walker to lift an enrollment cap and expand state programs designed to keep elderly and disabled people out of nursing homes.
Walker made no mention of the order at a news conference he called Wednesday morning to announce he wants to lift the cap. He told reporters only that health officials in his administration have been talking with Family Care providers for months. Together, they have identified $80 million in efficiencies over the next two years 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 move could open the door for thousands of people to join the programs — but it also represents a stark reversal for Walker. The Republican governor has been pushing to rein in Medicaid costs for months and imposed the cap in Family Care enrollment in the state budget.
Chris Bowers sums up what happened well:
1. In the state budget, Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans imposed a July 1 cap on enrollment in a program designed to keep the elderly and disabled out of nursing homes.
2. On December 13, federal health officials sent a letter (PDF) to the Walker administration ordering it to lift the cap because it was not in compliance with federal regulations.
3. On December 28, Scott Walker holds a press conference saying how awesome he is for lifting the enrollment cap.
Another Daily Kos dairy points out the importance of the Family Care program:
The caps on long-term care enrollment in the Wisconsin budget may have been overshadowed by the attack on collective bargaining and the public-education cuts, but to seniors and people with disabilities, the consequences were immense. Wisconsin's Family Care program was initiated under Republican governor Tommy Thompson with bipartisan support, providing cost-effective assistance via a combination of Medicaid waiver and county funding for people to live in their own homes rather than having to rely on institutional care. The program expanded under Governor Jim Doyle (D), and even Scott Walker was a proponent during his years as Milwaukee County Executive.