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Nov. 27, 2021

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Washington’s new long-term care tax begins Jan. 1

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A mandatory payroll tax to fund Washington’s new long-term care program will start coming out of most workers’ paychecks across the state in January.

The insurance benefit, dubbed the WA Cares Fund, is a first-in-nation public insurance program aimed at helping older residents age in their own homes.

The plan, signed into law in 2019 through the Long Term Care Trust Act, will use a 0.58 percent payroll tax to pay up to $36,500 for individuals to cover home health care and an array of services related to long-term health care including equipment, transportation and meal assistance.

The plan is expected to save $3.9 billion in state Medicaid costs by 2052, and eligible beneficiaries will be able to begin collecting benefits starting in 2025.

The program has drawn both ire and praise from advocacy groups and politicians. Advocates cite a rapidly aging population and high premiums on the current private long-term care market; critics have lambasted the plan as expensive and unnecessary.

Here’s what to know about WA Cares.

When will the deduction begin? It begins Jan. 1, 2022, and will appear on the first paycheck received in 2022. Workers will initially pay 58 cents for every $100 earned.

The benefit won’t become available for eligible qualified people until Jan. 1, 2025.

Is this mandatory for everyone? The fund applies to anyone who works for a business in Washington, with some exemptions, like federal workers. Those who are self-employed won’t be automatically enrolled but can opt in to have funds withdrawn for a long-term care account.

People can apply for an exemption if they can demonstrate they have other long-term care insurance purchased by Nov. 1. The window to apply is through Dec. 31, 2022. To apply, visit www.wacaresfund.wa.gov/apply-for-an-exemption.

For now, there is no other opportunity to opt out of the program. Once someone opts out, they are permanently excluded from coverage and benefits.

Who will be eligible for benefits? To earn benefits, an individual must have worked and contributed to the fund for at least 10 years, without a break of five or more years, or three years in the past six years at the time they apply for benefits, with at least 500 hours worked annually during those years.

People who meet those criteria may access benefits starting in 2025 if the Department of Social and Health Services determines they require assistance for at least three activities of daily living.

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services estimates 38,000 people will seek the benefit in 2025.

What can the fund be used for? The list of approved services and supports is broad. It includes adult day services, in-home care, assisted living and nursing home services, care transition coordination, dementia care, adaptive equipment, home safety evaluations, transportation, home-delivered meals, education and respite for family caregivers.

These services must be registered through the Department of Social and Health Services.

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