IRIS is Wisconsin’s self-directed, community-based program for adults with disabilities and elderly adults who have long-term care needs. Participants are able to choose and direct the services that they need to participate in their communities, instead of being forced to look to nursing homes and other institutions for long-term care solutions. According to the Department of Health Services, more than 11,000 Wisconsinites rely on the IRIS program to design flexible, personal care plans that allow for cost-effectiveness and individual priorities. The proposed elimination of the program came as a shock to many, as IRIS has been incredibly popular with program participants and organizations that advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and older adults.
Current IRIS participants fear that the elimination of the program will completely change their lives and remove their ability to self- direct their long-term personal care . Other concerns include uncertainty about whether caregivers currently employed by IRIS participants will lose their jobs, and a decrease in choice and competition in long-term care that could have detrimental effects for those who need the services the most. The Save IRIS campaign has been started by a group of IRIS participants, family members, and care providers to raise awareness and to advocate for the continuation of the program in Wisconsin.
The simultaneous expansion of Family Care across all 72 counties of Wisconsin may seem like a welcome change at first glance, but the program that will be expanded is a pared down version of its current form. Administration of Family Care will be restructured from a regionalized not-for-profit system to a statewide system open to for-profit insurers that may result in individuals having to change their doctors, caretakers, and even the group homes where they reside. Furthermore, it is unclear how Family Care will allow for self-directed care that is comparable to that offered under the current IRIS program.
Disability and Wisconsin Women
These proposed changes are particularly important to elderly Wisconsin women as they are more likely than their male counterparts to need long-term care services. Women over 65 are both more likely to have functional impediments that inhibit their ability to live independently and to lack a social network than men over 65. Furthermore, women live longer than men on average and make up a larger share of the over 65 population. This combination of disability prevalence, old age, and lack of support makes elderly women particularly in need of programs like IRIS.
On the other side of long-term care, women make up 65% of caregivers and more than eight in ten are caring for a relative or friend age 50 or older. The future is uncertain for Wisconsin’s female caretakers and family members providing services and support to IRIS participants.