Opt-out direction, updates, and good and bad news concerning long-term-care law

Sep 23, 2021

A newly created long-term-care program in Washington state does not guarantee workers “long-term” care.

In its most recent meeting, state commission members acknowledged that the WA Cares Fund’s lifetime benefit of $36,500 will offer only partial help with most individuals’ long-term-care needs. In some cases, the program won’t even guarantee workers short-term care: Individuals taxed for the program but who move out of state after retirement are pretty much guaranteed they'll see nothing at all. 

That was one of the main takeaways from a Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Trust Commission meeting today. The group is overseeing a controversial law that created a program to be funded by a payroll tax of 58 cents per $100, starting in January. 

The meeting covered a lot of ground, including assurances that on Oct. 1 there will be an easily accessible and clear way for people with their own long-term-care insurance to opt out of the state program. They simply need to go to the WA Cares Fund website and visit the “Exemptions'' page to be directed to an online attestation form, agency officials said. People seeking to opt out were urged to complete that form as soon as possible, to avoid being taxed.

An eligibility committee within the commission came up with possible recommendations for some of the law’s shortcomings, including a promising fix for Washington workers who live in another state. (Those workers might eventually receive automatic exemptions from the payroll tax.) Right now, the committee had no recommendation to help the many Washingtonians who move out of state after retirement and who will lose the promised benefit, as it is not portable. Why? It appears too costly to fix this unfair provision. In discussion, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, rightly said, “We need something more than ‘you move you lose.’”

Several lawmakers and commission members are asking good questions about the law’s details and implementation. That’s encouraging. Not encouraging is a glossy marketing campaign full of false hope and a lack of information. The state’s ads for the  program that W2 workers are forced to join are pretty and show happy senior citizens, but they continue to give an inaccurate picture of the program's benefits and limitations. 

The state should be sending a different message: Most of us will need long-term care. People should save, invest or buy insurance for it, when possible, and Washingtonians should not plan to use Medicaid as their long-term-care insurance plan. 

Making state residents aware of a problem on the horizon and letting people work to address that problem in a way that meets their individual budgets is an appropriate role for state lawmakers. Having the state become a long-term-care insurer — one that offers a bad product — misses the mark. 

Repealing the state’s long-term-care law is still the best move lawmakers can make, despite all the hard work and money state agencies are pouring into the misguided effort.