The Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Commission is compiling a report of recommended changes to the WA Cares Fund, Washington state’s new public long-term care insurance benefit plan that has come under criticism for its lack of portability, among other concerns.
According to Ben Veghte, director of the WA Cares Fund at the Department of Social and Health Services, about three million Washingtonians are currently contributing to the mandatory benefit program, which was officially launched on July 1, 2023.
“The LTSS Trust Commission, the program’s oversight body, is currently working on a report to the Legislature that will include recommendations on how to make benefits portable, minimum qualifications for providers and benefit eligibility,” Veghte told InsuranceNewsNet.
The question of portability has been one of the biggest criticisms of the program since it was introduced. In June, before WA Cares’ launch, Veghte told the Associated Press that officials were aware of the “portability problem” and working to address it.
As of the end of September, the LTSS was deliberating on a recommendation to allow a Washingtonian taxpayer who contributed to the program for either three non-consecutive years or at least 1,000 hours per qualifying year to “buy in” to a voluntary portable option of the WA Cares LTCi.
Once the LTSS completes and submits its final report, which Veghte said “will be published at the end of this year,” it will be up to legislators to review, discuss and determine whether or not to adopt the recommendations.
A long time coming
The WA Cares bill was introduced in 2019 as a first-of-its kind public long-term care benefit. Supporters emphasized the need for more affordable long-term care options for Washingtonians.
However, conservative opponents argued against its being state-mandated and vowed to repeal it. In 2021, several GOP senators, including Ninth District Sen. Mark Schoesler, did precisely that. The bill ultimately passed in 2022.
Now, three months after its official launch, DSHS officials remain optimistic about the way forward and the positive impact WA Cares will have for local families.
Veghte said, “While it can be hard to put money aside today for future needs, especially for people struggling in a tough economy, this program will ensure workers have a resource available when they need care down the road.
“This will make Washington families more resilient as our society ages and give them more choices to help them live with dignity and independence when they need care.
“The program has heard from many Washingtonians, particularly those who have experienced the demands and costs of caring for a loved one, that they are excited to see the launch of a program like WA Cares.”
Meanwhile, conservative opposition remains strong, with Schoesler likening the program to “mandatory mediocrity” in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet.
He said he has no issue with LTC but believes that it should be optional and portable, that contributions should not be “perpetual,” and that the “$36,000 and change” benefit is “not really that much.”
“I think ‘pro-choice’ is the way to go,” Schoesler said. “If you want to start with a bare-bones plan, if you want to pay in more as your income grows, [that’s fine]. But why would any young professional or even blue-collar [worker] want a vehicle that’s not portable?… Mandatory mediocrity, that’s what it is.”
Elizabeth Hovde, policy analyst and a director at conservative think tank the Washington Policy Center, also spoke out against WA Cares and said she hopes to see it repealed.
“This is a regressive tax that penalizes work and leaves all workers with less income to use on the many different life needs individuals will have…” she said. “Many W2 workers are paying for a benefit they may never need or qualify for, even if they do need long-term care someday.”
Addressing a need for LTC
The urgent need for accessible and affordable long-term care for an aging population remains a concern across the United States. National census data estimates roughly 10,000 Americans retire every day, and states like Washington and California expect that around 70% of seniors will need long-term care that they likely will not be able to afford.
The WA Cares Fund was launched in an attempt to circumvent this challenge. The plan is supported by a mandatory payroll tax of 0.58% that continues until one retires or leaves the workforce. At the end of the contribution period, eligible Washingtonians will be able to access up to $36,500 for LTC needs.
The initial benefit period will not begin until July 1, 2026, but officials estimate that 25,000 to 50,000 people will receive payments at that time. Afterwards, approximately 100,000 new beneficiaries are expected to access benefits every year.
Rayne Morgan is a Content Marketing Manager with PolicyAdvisor.com and a freelance journalist and copywriter.
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