COMMENTARY: WA Cares is a long-term solution for aging adults

Mar 30th, 2022 | By | Category: News

The 2022 session of the state Legislature led to a significant win for Washingtonians nearing retirement. With the passing of House Bill 1732, more than one million near-retirees are now covered by the WA Cares program to help pay for care services that keep us in our homes as we age.

WA Cares is the new public long-term care program. It provides Washingtonians with flexible and meaningful benefits ensuring families can choose the care setting and services that best meet their loved one’s needs. Based on a modest payroll contribution, vested and eligible employees will receive a benefit of $36,500 to help them access a wide array of choices, including in-home care aides, adult family homes, assisted living, and skilled-nursing facilities. The benefit can also pay for medical equipment like emergency-alert devices and services, including home modification, transportation, or meal preparation.

In December 2021, the Legislature paused the start of WA Cares to improve the program. Including benefits for near-retirees was the number one priority for AARP. The original legislation had a narrow path for those who would retire before the 10-year vesting requirement to be eligible for WA Cares. Payroll contributions to WA Cares will begin on July 1, 2023, and benefits will be available on July 1, 2026.

With the new legislation, Washington workers born before 1968 will qualify for partial benefits on a pro-rated basis, which equals 10 percent of the $36,500 benefit for each year they have paid into the fund. An eligible vesting year requires only 500 hours of work, so part-time workers will also qualify.

AARP surveys indicate that 77 percent of adults 50 and older want to remain in their homes as they age. However, a vast majority of respondents also said they would need to modify their homes for themselves or for loved ones to live safely, including bathroom modifications, ramps to address accessibility issues, or the purchase of an emergency-response system. These are costs that Medicare and private long-term care insurance often won’t cover, but WA Cares will.

WA Cares is a valuable new option for those who can’t get reliable private long-term care insurance. Only 7 percent of Washingtonians can afford it. Compound that with the fact that insurers often charge women more than men for the same policies, cancel policies with little or no notice, and deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, or other conditions. Washingtonians will also only pay into the WA Cares Fund while working.

For many, the WA Cares Fund will be all families need. According to AARP research, 48 percent of people who need long-term care only need it for one year or less. And most don’t need full-time skilled nursing; they need a few hours of help each day with tasks like bathing, meal preparation, and transportation.

Without WA Cares, families will continue to drain their savings to afford care services. Only then will Medicaid step in to help pay for care, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for an exponential increase of new Medicaid enrollments due to the current age wave.

AARP is deeply committed to the success of WA Cares, not only for the change it will bring to older Washingtonians, but for the change it could inspire nationwide. Older adults are deeply in need of the financial assistance and flexibility that WA Cares provides, so they may age as they choose.  More information is available at wacaresfund.wa.gov.

 

Cathy MacCaul, who wrote this article, is AARP Washington’s advocacy director.

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