Proposed: Long-term care benefit

A lawmaker from Tacoma is among state legislators pushing for the creation of a long-term care benefit for Washington state workers and seniors.

House Bill 1636, known as the Long-Term Care Trust Act (LTC), would establish a public trust, similar to unemployment insurance, which would fund a long-term care benefit open to all who pay into the program. If enacted, a small percentage would be deducted from state workers’ pay to fund the trust. People would pay while they’re working and be eligible to draw on the benefits of the trust after they’ve worked three of the past six years, or 10 years total.

The bill received a public hearing in a legislative committee but wasn’t voted on in the House of Representatives by the March 8 deadline for legislation introduced in the House to pass there.

“Our bill offers a flexible solution that would help many seniors pay for long-term care services and take some of the pressure off of working family caregivers,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, who helped introduce LTC. Jinkins is a Democrat from the 27th Legislative District that includes parts of Tacoma.

Jinkins said the legislation would help address a looming fiscal crisis faced by the state as the baby boom generation retires. It’s estimated that the number of people in Washington who are 85 and older – those most likely to need care – will nearly double from 117,000 in 2010 to 216,000 in 2030.

“We need to prepare for this now or family finances and the state budget may be dramatically impacted in the coming years,” said Rep. Norm Johnson, another sponsor of LTC. “This bill has the right balance of personal and familial responsibility, consumer choice, and common sense.”

Considering more than 90 percent of older adults have no long-term care insurance and there is no coverage from Medicare, Johnson said, many seniors spend their retirement resources down to poverty levels before qualifying for care under Medicaid. Without action, he said, Medicaid long-term care could consume more than 10 percent of the state budget by 2030, more than doubling from $1.7 billion in 2015 to $4.1 billion.

“Long-term care is a critically important issue for the Legislature to address,” said Cathy MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP Washington. “Seniors’ life savings and the state budget are suffering because there are no good options that allow people to plan for long-term care costs.”

The proposed effort is supported by senior advocacy organizations, including AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington Health Care Association, and Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.