The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
From its inception, the WA Cares long-term health care insurance proposal was flawed.
The Long-Term Services and Support Act imposes a 0.58 percent payroll tax on employees in Washington — which amounts to $290 per year for someone making $50,000 annually. It was intended to help Washingtonians pay for their long-term health needs.
The law was set to start Jan. 1, 2022, but Gov. Jay Inslee pressed pause on the launch to give the Legislature time to make tweaks. Some changes were made: exemptions for military families, disabled veterans and people floating between Washington and other states; and a prorated plan for those who retire without being fully vested.
But WA Cares still needs fixes.
The Democratic-led Legislature has had ample time to shore up the program since it was created in 2019, but has failed to do so.
Under WA Cares, all workers in the state would be required to pay into the system and after 10 years they’d be vested and could receive $36,500 toward in-home care needs. It would help those who can’t afford a nursing home or assisted living and want to stay in their homes.
A goal was that with the long-term care plan, fewer Washingtonians would need to spend down their assets to qualify for Medicaid long-term care.
In the 2021-22 session, Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, introduced several bills that would have improved WA Cares, among them HB 1598, which would have allowed the benefit to transfer to a surviving spouse upon the death of the plan’s enrollee, and HB 1596, which would have made the benefit portable if the person moved to another state.
Currently those who have paid into the program must remain in the state to receive the benefit. Though Abbarno offered an unrealistic bill this year to repeal the bill that created the fund, his previous bills deserved debate.
Each year the WA Cares Fund (formerly The Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Commission) recommended changes to the plan. In January, the fund recommended the Legislature create a plan for portability and change the eligibility requirements to allow those who received exemptions because they purchased their own long-term care to still be able to join WA Cares. As the law stands now, even new employees in the state who may have their own private long-term care insurance will still be taxed for WA Cares.
Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said lawmakers are considering the WA Cares Fund’s recommendations on portability, though it is not as simple as just offering a cash benefit without considering actuarial formulas.
In January 2022, Inslee said in announcing the pause to the plan, “We do have to get this right, because this is so important to so many people.”
His words still ring true.