House passes measure to create long-term care program
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A proposal for a new employee-funded program that would create a benefit to help offset long-term care costs was approved by the House Thursday.
The measure passed on a bipartisan 63-33 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Under the proposal, premiums of 0.58 percent of wages would start being collected from employees on Jan. 1, 2022, meaning an employee who makes $50,000 a year would pay about $24 a month. Employers would not be required to pay into the program. Starting Jan. 1, 2025, people who need assistance with at least three “activities of daily living” such as bathing, dressing or administration of medication, could tap into the fund to help pay for things like in-home care, a wheelchair ramp or rides to the doctor. The measure is supported by the AARP.
“Nearly all of us are going to need some sort of long-term care as we age,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.
Jinkins said that with many people currently not having the resources they need for such care, “we are forcing people to spend themselves into poverty so that they can get Medicaid-based care for long-term services.”
“It also means that family members are spending themselves into poverty taking care of a family member,” she said.
The benefit’s lifetime maximum is $36,500 per person, indexed to inflation.
To be eligible for benefits, workers will have had to have paid the premium for three of the previous six years in which they’re seeking the benefit or for a total of 10 years, with at least five of those paid without interruption.
Several Republicans spoke against the bill, raising concerns about increased costs to employees, and questions about the long-term viability of the benefit as long-term care costs increase.
An amendment offered by Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, would have added a referendum clause to require voters to weigh in in November. The amendment failed.
“We are told that we must pass this bill because the folks that have worked for most of their lives have failed to make proper financial decisions to save for their long-term care,” Stokesbary said. “If you’re going to make all Washingtonians pay into this system for the rest of their working lives, those Washingtonians ought to have a right to voice their opinion whether or not they think this is a good decision or not.”
Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, said he understood the concerns some of his fellow Republicans had, but said that as a financial adviser, he knowns the challenges people have affording long-term care and said the proposed new program “makes a lot of sense.”
“At the end of the day, the benefits that you will receive are far greater than anything you pay in a premium, and anything you’d get on the private market,” said MacEwen, who was one of six Republicans who voted with majority Democrats in support of the bill. “I’ll take those odds.”
A companion bill in the Senate has had two public hearings but has not yet been scheduled for a vote from the Ways and Means Committee. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he supports the proposal, saying in a written statement that it “allows Washingtonians to invest now in a system that will help them through their senior years.”