The Stranger wants to give me a Scarlet 'H'

About the Author
Elizabeth New (Hovde)
Policy Analyst and Director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights

The Stranger's Rich Smith got in touch with me about Washington Policy Center's opposition to WA Cares and the new payroll tax in Washington state. He asked me if I felt like a hypocrite because of my opposition to the tax in light of a near-fatal skiing accident I had years ago, in which friends rallied to my side. When I explained why I did not see any hypocrisy, the inquiry got even more off-base. Here's the exchange: 

Smith's inquiry:

"Heyo Elizabeth, 

I have a request for comment about the gulf between your personal experience with long term health care and your op-eds criticizing WA Cares. 

In 2011, The Columbian and The Oregonian promoted crowd-source funding efforts and a charity 5K race to help raise money to pay for medical bills you incurred following a tragic ski accident. Judging by the extent of your injuries and the length of time you spent in rehab, you almost certainly would have qualified for WA Cares funding if you’d paid into the program. Do you have any comment on the apparent hypocrisy of you leaning on your personal connections with newspapers to pay your long-term health care bills but then spending a lot of your time trying to kill a long-term health care benefit that will serve Washingtonians who weren’t as fortunate and well-connected as you were?"

My response: 

"Hi, Rich. 

Happy to talk about how the state's mandatory long-term-care tax hurts low-income workers, doesn't guarantee Washingtonians long-term care, how there is already a safety net that we should protect and how I recovered — physically and financially — from a skiing accident. 

I had personal health insurance that I was purchasing at the time of my skiing accident, by the way. That was the primary reason I escaped financial hardship. So thankful I saw health insurance as a priority. I was also grateful for the 5k a runner hosted for me. At the time, doctors were unsure if I would work again. I did get to. I think I returned to work after about six months. I'd need to double-check.

I'll call you tomorrow,


I tried calling Smith Tuesday. He was busy at the time and kindly asked if I could talk later. I said my schedule might or might not allow that, and I sent him more information in case we didn't connect.


“Hey, Rich.

I'll try for 2. Right now, my schedule makes that a complicated maybe. Do try. 

And in case we fail to connect before your deadline, below are some thoughts:

First, I’m happy to talk to you about this new, regressive tax in our state and hope you can communicate to your audience the argument for repealing WA Cares. 

This regressive tax in our state’s long-term-care law means some low-income workers will be forced to hand over a portion of their income to benefit other people with higher incomes and who may not need assistance. This program expands a safety net far too wide. It also fails to emphasize people’s need to plan and save for life events. The lifetime benefit is also inadequate for most people's long-term-care needs.

Washington state residents already have safety nets for long-term care. Medicaid is an option that should be one of last resort but often isn’t. We need lawmakers to protect and strengthen Medicaid, not widen it, so taxpayers can best help people. Government aid for disability is also available for people in need. Instead of protecting Medicaid, we’ve created a new ‘safety net’ for people in need and people not in need — on the backs of workers, hurting low-income wage earners in the process.

When people learn this benefit they’re now forced to pay into and are told to have peace of mind about isn’t a guaranteed one for possible long-term-care needs, they won’t be happy with WA Cares. There are many reasons why you might not receive a WA Cares benefit. (Moving out of state and failing to meet a vestment requirement of 10 years without a break of five or more years lead the way.) 

You brought up my skiing accident in 2011: There is zero hypocrisy nor a gulf between my past health care needs and my opposition to WA Cares. My personal experiences with health care have only strengthened my thoughts about health care in America and the need to reserve taxpayer generosity for people in true need. Meanwhile, a free market health care system, where consumers would shop for prices and quality, as well as insurance that works for their situations and unanticipated needs, offers real hope for containing costs in health care while retaining health care access and quality. 

As for my situation and WA Cares, I would not have qualified for WA Cares if it existed. I was a new mom and self-employed as a freelancer for the five years prior to my accident. That is why I purchased my own health care. When I crashed on the mountain, I would not have had paid in for 10 years without a break of five or more years. I would have been disqualified from the benefit that the state says to have peace of mind about.

My friends in the community and a colleague with a newspaper column did get involved in promoting a 5k run I didn’t ask for but was humbled by. (A runner on a former cross-country team I volunteered with organized it on his own volition and without my knowledge.) At the time, doctors were unsure if I would be able to work again in my profession. I did work again, starting very part time, but even that took several months, during which I had no personal income.

All this aside, know that the financial hardship I avoided came through insurance I purchased and which rightly paid the thousands of dollars I incurred in my mountain rescue, hospital stay and traumatic brain injury recovery services. 

My criticisms of WA Cares are many. It overpromises what it can deliver, it markets itself irresponsibly, its fiscal stability is still a question mark and it is not the only means to help with disability or long-term-care needs. Finally, and again, the new tax takes money from the paychecks of workers living paycheck-to-paycheck and/or who are being hit by inflation and skyrocketing grocery and gas bills.

Let me know if I can help further! And when will your WA Cares story run? 




“Working as a freelancer doesn’t disqualify you from the benefit. If the program had started in 2008, say, and you’d paid in between 2005-2008, you could have accessed the benefit during your accident. But just to be clear on the facts: you’re saying you didn’t work as a full-time employee of The Columbian as a columnist/editorial writer between 1998 and 2008, as your LinkedIn suggests?”

I assured Smith I wrote columns and editorials for The Columbian between the years of 1998 and 2008. But, I explained, in my last years writing for The Columbian, I did so as a self-employed worker, not a regular employee. I will spare you the TMI involved in detailing my work history for Smith. He also wanted more information about the private insurance I purchased and how I spent any money that was gained from the 5k in my honor. 

He’s right that my freelancer status would not disqualify me from WA Cares, but it did mean that I wouldn’t have been automatically included in the program. I could have opted into WA Cares when I became self-employed. I wouldn’t have chosen to do that, however, as I am sure I would see the program as I do now — a bad investment for long-term care with only a maybe return on investment. 

Back to more of the exchange. 


“I still think we’re at square one with the question. Under the WA Cares scenario I described, you could have qualified but you wouldn’t have because you wouldn’t have opted in. Which brings us back to square one. You benefited from your connections and your network as a newspaper columnist, but not everyone is quite so lucky to have those sorts of connections. So I’d argue that the hypocrisy argument stands, but I hear and will include your general argument about your concerns about expanding the welfare state, etc.

Happy to chat by phone if it’s easier. I’m working on stuff but I’m not in meetings for the rest of the day.


That made me sad. He still wanted to paint me with a Scarlet “H.” 

How on Earth is it hypocritical to be against a tax that hurts workers, especially low-income ones, if you have accepted a friend hosting a run for you when you came home from a near-fatal accident? I am all for helping friends who experience a tragic event. I’m all for government safety nets for people in need. I advocate for the appropriate application of Medicaid dollars. Because of WA Cares, some low-income people without resources are being taxed today for a possible long-term-care benefit they might not need, and some will qualify for Medicaid's assistance with long-term care someday.

I am unsure Smith knows what hypocrisy means. The definition of hypocrisy from Oxford Languages follows:




the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense 

Again, I want Medicaid, a taxpayer-provided safety net, protected and strengthened. And I’m against WA Cares for all the reasons I’ve mentioned here and more. I’m also forever grateful that friends rallied to my side when I fell on a mountain and tried to help me. The Stranger just gave me another opportunity to say thank you. 

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