Look into all of WA Cares to know if it’s right for you


Proponents of WA Cares inspired an opinion piece I wrote for The Washington State Standard titled, “WA Cares is not a good answer for people in need.” It ran on May 3. 

Backers of the state’s mandatory long-term-care law, including the director of AARP, one of the groups that pushed for the creation of the mandatory WA Cares program, wrote an article on April 14 titled, “WA’s long-term care benefit just got an important upgrade, but the program is also under threat.” 

The upgrade? Recently passed “portability” legislation intends to allow workers who do qualify for a WA Cares benefit someday to use the benefit for long-term care received in another state. That was one of the things Washingtonians didn’t like about WA Cares. (Another thing they don’t like is that not all workers will see a return on investment, regardless of how much they pay into the system. Legislation addressing that bigger problem has not been considered.)

Portability rules need to be written and expenses for caregivers or other services for those who move out of state will have to meet state requirements, as will be the case for people living in state. The trouble? The legislation did not follow a commission’s recommendation that portability happen in a cost-neutral way. That makes it hard to celebrate and makes me wonder if the championed fix will be amended or repealed. WA Cares already has solvency concerns. The new law also created different eligibility requirements for in-state and out-of-state beneficiaries. That will be trouble.

Trying to gather support for WA Cares, the recent opinion piece from supporters of WA Cares in The Standard misrepresented private long-term-care insurance and downplayed program solvency concerns that even lawmakers supporting WA Cares voice. It talked about Medicaid as if it is a long-term-care insurance program all people are entitled to, regardless of need, rather than the taxpayer-funded safety net that it is. (WA Cares will often have low-income workers financing long-term-care services used by those with higher incomes and more resources.)

The opinion piece also committed the same sin of omission the state does when highlighting WA Cares, giving Washingtonians false hope that everyone who pays wins. WA Cares will result in many workers losing a whole lot of money via a payroll tax that did not earn them funds for long-term care. 

As for the threat proponents write about? Initiative 2124, which would make participation in WA Cares optional, could kill the program. I agree. If enough people don’t value WA Cares and want out of it, the program won’t have enough money to benefit even the limited number of people planned. 

November voters might do what lawmakers should have done already when analyzing WA Cares’ many shortcomings and its inability to solve our long-term-care crisis: Rid Washington state workers of a program that offers false hope, has solvency concerns and hurts low-income workers with a payroll tax of 58 cents on every $100 they make. 

A news story from The Standard explains more fully what the passage of  I-2124 might mean. If the initiative passes and a lot of Washington state workers choose not to participate in WA Cares, lawmakers might have to give up on WA Cares. I disagree that this would be a bad outcome.

Real answers for helping our graying population with possible needs for long-term care include continued awareness, encouraging savings and investments for our many life needs, more protection for Medicaid, which is the current taxpayer-funded safety net, and efforts to create a good environment for a competitive marketplace.

— Elizabeth New is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.