COMMENTARY: Support exists for paying into state’s long-term care

(The following commentary was written by Doug Shadel, the state director for AARP Washington.)

We all hope to age as independently and as successfully as possible, but long-term care services can be expensive, and far too many of us aren’t financially prepared. Thankfully, Washington’s long-term care system is recognized as a national leader for its focus on choice and home-based long-term care services, and we’re strengthening that system by launching the WA Cares Fund.

A survey of 800 registered voters age 18-plus explored their understanding and support of WA Cares, which is designed to provide flexible and meaningful long-term care services, ensuring that families can choose the setting and services that best meet their needs.

According to AARP’s survey, 51 percent of Washington voters said they supported WA Cares. However, support increases as people learn more about the specific features of WA Cares and how it differs from what is currently available from private insurers.

AARP asked respondents to weigh a number of key differences between WA Cares and most private long-term care plans:

  • 80 percent said it’s important that no one can be turned down for pre-existing conditions. Underwriting requirements for private plans often mean people with pre-existing conditions or disabilities may have to pay more or not be able to get insurance at all.
  • 76 percent said it’s important that WA Cares allows participants to pay family caregivers – something that private long-term care insurance options don’t usually allow.
  • 73 percent said it’s important that men and women pay the same amount for coverage. Private long-term care insurance rates for women can be up to 50 percent more than for men.
  • 70 percent said it’s important that workers only pay into WA Cares during their working years. Private long-term care insurance payments can go on for decades after retirement.
  • 70 percent said it’s important that WA Cares costs less than private long-term care insurance for most workers even though the life-time benefit is smaller.

Private long-term care insurance remains out of reach for most consumers, and the cost of long-term care services can leave families on the precipice of poverty.  In fact, 74 percent of Washington voters either aren’t confident or only somewhat confident in their ability to pay for their long-term care needs.

Beginning in January 2022, Washington workers will contribute 58 cents per $100 of earnings from each paycheck to the WA Cares Fund. The median income for Washington workers is $52,075, so the annual premium would be $302. Employees only pay into the program during their working years and will not have to worry about losing coverage if they change employers, lose their job, or retire

Anyone who has needed help with long-term care for themselves or for someone they care about knows preparation is key. For some families, WA Cares may be all the help they need. The program can offer others the time and resources to plan for extended care. Most of all, it will give families the security of knowing they will have a resource to help get the care they need, with the benefits they want, in the settings that they prefer.