Privatizing long-term care for profit

With the media focused on our crazy presidential campaign, it’s easy to overlook another disturbing power play by Gov. Scott Walker and his cronies here at home.

A year ago during the legislative budget session, GOP leaders proposed to dismantle Wisconsin’s highly rated long-term care system.

The proposal came as a shock to the state’s nonprofit managed care organizations — or MCOs. They’re the long-term care providers and personal care workers. No one bothered to consult the 55,000 elderly and disabled individuals who receive assistance from the programs or the family members who participate in their care.

Despite a mighty grassroots effort to defeat the proposal, the GOP voted for the changes anyway. Walker vetoed the item only because he disagreed about how to section off regions of the state to the advantage of for-profit insurance companies.

No bad ideas rest for long with the GOP leaders who control our state — especially not when their campaign contributors and cronies stand to benefit.

In late April, Walker and GOP legislative leaders announced again that they plan to shift the current system of eight regions overseen by nonprofit MCOs to three regions administered by national for-profit health insurance companies. They have the votes and the power to do whatever they want.

R.J. Pirlot, executive director of the Alliance for Health Insurers, is in quite a hurry. “The sooner the committee acts,” he said in a statement, “the sooner both service recipients and Wisconsin taxpayers will reap the benefits.”

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson is antsy, too. “We believe the sooner we can transition to improved services, the better off consumers and tax payers will be.”

Pardon my skepticism toward the newfound altruism of our one-party state. In the past few years, the GOP has slashed access to food stamps, rejected almost $1 billion in federal Medicaid funds for the poor, and defunded and forced the closure of Planned Parenthood clinics.

Walker and GOP Rep. John Nygren claim that turning the long-term care system over to the private sector will save the state $300 million over the next six years.

That sounds good, but expanding caseloads and payouts to insurance company shareholders over those years can only result in cuts to services for our most vulnerable citizens.

The non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau has issued several reports showing that our current long-term care system is efficient and has saved money. Its emphasis on providing home and community services reduced the number of Medicaid-covered individuals in nursing homes by 10,811 between 2002 and 2011.

The state Department of Health Services has issued data on the positive health outcomes and high rates of satisfaction among individuals receiving care in their communities. Sudden changes in providers or services will surely be upsetting to elderly and disabled recipients.

I know many dedicated people who worked hard over almost 20 years to gather input, plan and reform our long-term care system into what it is today. It was painstaking work, taking the views of disabled people, their families, caregiving agencies, health care providers, county and state agencies and legislators into account.

It is a travesty of justice that this model of consensus and consumer-directed service can be dismantled in just one month by those whose only concern is providing more profits for wealthy corporations.