Serving Franklin County, WA

Long-term care is a life need

There wasn't much notice for August's webinar hosted by the WA Cares Fund. It was titled, "Long-Term Care Planning for Near-Retirees." I finally went back for a watch.

In addition to presentations from government employees about changes that were made for near-retirees in the last legislative session when it comes to WA Cares - the new social program supporters and public agency heads are trying to pass off as an insurance policy for workers, even calling a new payroll tax a "premium" - there also were helpful presentations from the Area Agencies on Aging and American Association of Retired Persons.

Spokespersons gave information about where people can go for help that is often needed as people age. Many companies offer financial planning tools, one representative said.

Home design that makes sense for aging and preventing falls was highlighted, as were advance directives and discussions about eventual care with family members and faith-based groups. I thought, "Yes. This is an appropriate role for government."

Lawmakers would be wise to use their bully pulpits to help people become aware that long-term care is a life need many of us will have in our increasingly graying population.

They could point to planning information and already available resources so people don't become dependent on the state in retirement years. That's not attractive. Being dependent on the government means you're in a very low-income situation and often receive subpar health care, as decisions are often made on a government-centric path not a patient-centered one.

Instead of an information campaign encouraging self-sufficiency and planning for those who still can before they're faced with expensive long-term-care needs, the Democrat-led Legislature decided to require every W-2 worker to pay a new tax for something they might not ever need or get, while erroneously telling them they can count on the social program. (They can't.) And many workers need as much of their earned income to help with the needs of today, especially in a time when inflation and taxpayer-spending hits keep coming. Legislators should repeal this long-term-care law next legislative session.

An information campaign - one that could point to private long-term-care insurance for workers who LTCI makes sense for - should be coupled with removing taxes on insurance products and better protecting Medicaid. That'd be a better route for the state when it comes to looking out for Medicaid's LTC spending woes.

Cost-shifting to workers saves the state relatively little and costs workers a lot. Creating a new entitlement program for people in need and people not in need isn't wise. See my policy analysis of the law here.

WA Cares supporters, including some lawmakers, continue to misrepresent LTCI plans sold in the private market. It happened again in this webinar. WA Cares Director Ben Veghte insisted comparable plans offered before government intervention were not affordable for workers. I disagree. LTCI was not sought by many workers, maybe because of a lack of knowledge about possible LTC needs and often because people save for life needs in different ways. But not being able to afford a policy and not choosing to purchase a policy are two totally different things. Veghte also said it was easier to qualify for the WA Cares benefit if you do need long-term care. I'd disagree with that, too, from several angles. Vestment criteria and residency are going to keep a lot of people from the benefit they were told a payroll tax was earning them. WA Cares' health qualifications are not yet final, but they're also questionable.

Helping people age in place starts with good information. Our Legislature should get on board. Having more money when you retire, not less because of high payroll taxes over your working years, will also help Washington's workers age in place.

- Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. Email her at [email protected]


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