What You Need to Know
- The state was going to impose a 0.58% payroll tax to pay for up to $36,500 in LTC benefits.
- Workers could opt out by getting private long-term care insurance.
- One criticism is that the state would have no way to verify that workers who opted out were keeping their private LTCI coverage.
Washington state leaders say they will delay the start of a public long-term benefits program until the end of the state’s 2023 legislative session, to give state lawmakers time to adjust it.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced the Washington Cares program delay Friday, together with state Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig and state House Speaker Laurie Jinkins.
The Washington Cares Fund program is supposed to use revenue from a 0.58% payroll tax to provide up to $36,500 in long-term care benefits for eligible program participants starting in 2025.
The state had planned to start collecting the payroll tax in January 2022. Workers could opt out by buying private long-term care insurance by Nov. 1.
One problem with the program was that so many workers applied for private LTCI that they swamped the LTCI issuers’ underwriting teams.
Private issuers were reluctant to accept the applications, arguing that Washington state had no mechanism in place to require workers who opted out of the Washington Cares Fund payroll tax to keep paying the LTCI premiums. They predicted that many workers who bought private LTCI would drop the coverage as soon as they had escaped having to pay the payroll tax.
Inslee said in his statement that the Washington Cares Fund premium assessment will pay for much-needed care and coverage for Washington state residents as they age.
“However, legislators have identified some areas that need adjustments, and I agree,” Inslee said. “We need to give legislators the opportunity to make refinements to the bill.”
In theory, Washington state lawmakers should have a relatively easy time passing legislation, because one party is in control of all branches. Inslee is a Democrat. Democrats have a 57-41 majority in the state House and a 28-21 majority in the state Senate.
What Could Change
Billig and Jinkins said in a joint statement that they want to improve provisions in the LTC program for disabled veterans, military spouses, nonresidents and near-retirees.
“A pause will also give the Long Term Care Commission the ability to study and make recommendations about residents who move out of Washington to retire and assure that those who have opted out of the program maintain their private insurance policies,” the lawmakers said. “These improvements will provide security and stability now and into the future for this critical safety net for our state’s seniors and people with disabilities.”