Would the passage of Initiative 2124 kill WA Cares?


Probably. It’s super likely that if the state’s new, mandatory long-term-care program was made optional for Washington state workers many would flee, leaving it unable to pay its way in its current form. No argument there. 

Still, that is what was emphasized when the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee discussed WA Cares in a Tuesday work session. Is the program solvent? And would it be if it becomes voluntary? Experts told the committee a few things many of them should already know about those two questions: Maybe, and no. 

A lot of workers understand that being forced to save for one life need that they might or might not have — especially when they might not qualify for a return on their investment for a plethora of reasons — is not a good idea. 

Before this part of the discussion, WA Cares Director Ben Veghte delivered interesting news that made retiring Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, cheerful: The state took in $400,000 more dollars from state workers since the payroll tax began last July than was projected for the first year. Veghte explained that the money WA Cares collects each year will vary, depending on the state of the economy and how healthy the workforce. Acknowledging that bringing in more than expected might not always be a thing, Keiser said of this time around, “At least it didn’t come in lower!” 

The increased tax collection for WA Cares’ first year could have something to do with its 18-month delay, too. It's come up before that starting 18 months after the intended start date gave WA Cares an income boost. I hope to learn more.

WA Cares Director Ben Veghte reminded the committee that people who opted out of WA Cares because they had private long-term-care-insurance would eventually die off, resulting in close to universal participation in WA Cares. That is if voters don’t pass Initiative 2124 making WA Cares voluntary instead of mandatory. 

Those highlights from Veghte might be good news for state lawmakers who wanted this program to help the state budget and to have taxpayers paying the wages of more caregivers in the state, but it doesn’t change things for the taxpaying workers forced to fund WA Cares. The program remains a gamble for them individually.

Years ago, Veghte explained, the state was looking at a predicted doubling of Medicaid long-term-care payouts over a short period of time in our aging population. State workers, consultants and lawmakers studied policy options and came up with WA Cares, shifting some of the state’s long-term-care costs onto workers — regardless of income or need — to fund a person’s long-term care  — regardless of income or need. That’s why our state will require some low-income workers to hand over a portion of their earnings to people with more income and resources for long-term care. 

That leads to my big question: Why didn’t the state zero in on protecting Medicaid, the long-term-care safety net that taxpayers already provide? Instead, lawmakers created WA Cares, which will pick winners and losers and offer a skimpy product that won't get us out of a coming long-term-care crisis.

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