Rep. Scott Allen: Rhetoric versus reality in Wisconsin's long-term care

Rep. Scott Allen: Rhetoric versus reality in Wisconsin's long-term care

The people of Wisconsin want bipartisan cooperation. They want Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve problems. That kind of cooperative work is nearly impossible while the Democrats continue their partisan posturing; it is difficult to do in an environment of extreme rhetoric.

As an example we can look at the extreme language and partisan posturing regarding Wisconsin’s long-term care program and the recent actions of the Joint Finance Committee.

Over the last few years there has been tremendous growth in the utilization of long-term care programs by elderly and disabled citizens. With the growth of these important programs there have been rapidly rising public costs. If the trend were to continue, the cost growth would be unsustainable and the programs might be in jeopardy.

Recognizing the problem is always the first step in solving the problem. Problems like this generally do not go away by themselves. The Republican legislative leadership on the Joint Finance Committee recognized the problem and has crafted a proactive approach that will help preserve long-term care options in Wisconsin for years to come.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Republican proposal is that it put the brakes on change. Rather than just going along with the governor’s aggressive long-term care modifications, the Republican leadership delayed program modifications for the next two years. This two-year pause will allow adequate time for the Department of Health Services to study and design program modifications. The proposal passed by the Joint Finance Committee, without any Democrat support, will require “DHS to consult with stakeholders, including representatives of consumers of long-term care and long-term care providers, and the public.”

Some of the other important features of the approved budget motion are: 1) It protects the self-direction component of long-term care and actually delineates it in statute, 2) It retains the local consultation component provided by the Aging and Disability Resource Centers, 3) It envisions a more integrated approach to health services with long-term care providing the opportunity for improved care and more efficiency in the system, 4) It creates multiple care regions throughout the state and requires multiple providers in each region to foster competition, and most importantly, 5) It requires that the legislative Joint Finance Committee approve plan modifications prior to DHS requesting the necessary federal waiver. In all of these ways, the JFC plan is significantly different from the governor’s proposal.

So what do the Democrats have to say about the plan?

“Governor Walker’s presidential campaign relies heavily on campaign contributions from large companies and corporations, and it appears that this proposal is a giveaway to those entities,” states a press release from Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee.

“Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for the ways they’re treating aging and disabled persons in Wisconsin. It’s absolutely criminal,” says Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, in another statement.

“Attempts to change our successful long-term care system are nothing but a giveaway to out-of-state insurance companies,” according to Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.

“We all know Governor Walker is … selling out our state to his big campaign donors. His Republican legislative colleagues are following his lead, sacrificing the people of this state to their wealthy campaign donors,” states Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.

“Republicans are selling out our most vulnerable to aid the governor in his presidential ambitions,” says Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, in her statement.

These comments are nothing more than political posturing, which is fine during campaign season, but weren’t we elected to govern? There is only one Senate district, the 33rd, where there will be a legislative election in 2015, yet the Democrats just seem to want to politic.

The approved budget motion is significantly different from the governor’s proposal, but almost all the Democrat statements suggest that the independently elected Republican legislators are moving lock-step with the governor.

The approved budget motion clearly calls for public and stakeholder input. It clearly calls for more competition. It clearly preserves local input and self-direction. The Democrats want to position the policy as somehow favoring certain business interests or wealthy individuals. How exactly does that add up?

The larger question is: How does the hyper-political rhetoric foster bipartisan cooperation? It doesn’t.

We could accomplish great things together in Wisconsin if we could just tone it down and have open and honest dialogue. Perhaps that is the naiveté of a freshman legislator, but I haven’t given up hope.

Rep. Scott Allen, a Republican, represents the 97th District, Waukesha, Genesee, Mukwonago, in the Wisconsin Legislature.

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