The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
Ever since the Legislature passed the Long-Term Services & Support Trust Act in 2019, the supervisory commission it created has been tasked with fixing its well-known problems.
Out of the gate, the proponents of the mandatory long-term care plan for Washington employees seemed more fixated on being the first state in the nation to create such a plan than on implementing sound policy, assessing whether it was needed or residents even wanted it.
Aside from being a mandate that the majority of the people of Washington didn’t ask for, the plan, known as WA Cares, had other problems.
The Seattle Times Editorial Board opposed the bill as originally passed. The bill was a rush job and lawmakers agreed to delay the start of the program a year to fix problems. Yet, lawmakers ignored this responsibility even as its implementation date neared. Workers started paying the tax last year.
Now the Legislature is forced to make a choice. Initiative 2124 may appear on the November ballot, proposing to amend the law to make participation voluntary. Lawmakers can adopt the initiative, let it go to the ballot as is or propose an alternative that would also appear on the ballot.
When launched, WA Cares had no exemption for those who have their own long-term care plans. That was fixed, but the law provided a small window for those who elected to buy their own insurance to opt out. Now, employees do not have that option.
But other problems remain. Workers who move out of state could not use their benefits outside of Washington. So a person could fully pay into the program and then never get a benefit. Four years after the original law was passed, the Legislature is just now considering Senate Bill 6072, which would address this portability issue as well as eligibility for continuing to participate in the program after the move.
This effort addresses only a part of the law’s shortcomings. Another significant oversight is the law does not permit a surviving spouse or partner to use untapped benefits.
Wealthy conservative Brian Heywood, with support of some state Republicans, was able to garner enough signatures of Washington voters to place an initiative to amend the law on the ballot. It would kill the law’s mandate and allow Washington residents to opt out of the .58 percent payroll tax that funds the long-term services and support plan. Initiative 2124 is among six initiatives proposed by Heywood’s Let’s Go Washington group, which includes state Rep. Jim Walsh, chair of the state Republican Party. Heywood’s millions financed the signature-gathering efforts.
Most of the other five initiatives also target laws enacted by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
At the very least, Democrats should hold hearings on I-2024, having the public conversation about its merits and the obviously slow-walked efforts to fix its well-documented flaws.
Hearings would give the public a chance to air the pros and cons of a plan that affects their wallets and possible health care, as well as the possible program benefit total of $36,500 in today’s dollars for long-term care and support services.
Be bold, lawmakers. Have the conversation with your constituents in public hearings.