WA Cares Fund premium contributions begin in three months: what all Washingtonians need to know

Seven in 10 Washingtonians will need long-term care, new earned benefit helps ensure residents can afford care when they need it

Chris Wright

OLYMPIA, WA — Starting January 2022, Washingtonians will begin making contributions into the WA Cares Fund. The WA Cares Fund is a new long-term care insurance benefit workers earn, like Social Security, that can help people stay in their own homes as they age.

“Most people don’t think about long-term care early in life and only start to consider it in their 50s or 60s, when it is more expensive,” said Ben Veghte, PhD, Director of the WA Cares Fund. “The WA Cares Fund offers affordable long-term care insurance to everyone, so that people at all income levels can afford long-term care when they need it.”

Seven in 10 Washingtonians will need long-term care at some point in their life. Long-term care involves a variety of services designed to meet a person’s personal care needs. These services help people live as independently and safely as possible when they can no longer perform everyday activities on their own.

Examples of these services and supports include in-home care (including payments to professional care workers or to children or spouses who take care of a family member), care in a facility, adaptive equipment like wheelchair ramps, assistive technology, home-delivered meals and rides to the doctor.

Most people can’t afford long-term care when they need it, and Medicare and health insurance don’t pay for it. Often an individual’s life savings are depleted to pay for the cost of care. In other cases, family members are forced to quit their jobs or lose hourly wages in order to care for loved ones. Many also turn to Medicaid to pay for long-term care once their savings are depleted. Under the WA Cares Fund, eligible individuals are entitled to a lifetime benefit of $36,500 (adjusted annually up to inflation) to pay for long-term services, even care provided by family members.

“Many of us think of long-term care as nursing home care. But with the WA Cares Fund, Washingtonians will be able to age in place in their own homes much longer by drawing on a broad range of services and supports,” Veghte continued. “Older adults typically need long-term care for less than three years. WA Cares will give families resources and choices, such as whether they want to make a loved one a paid caregiver or bring in a home care aide.”

Vesting and Accessing WA Cares Benefits

WA Cares Fund is self-funded entirely by worker contributions from wage earners who work in Washington state. Employers do not contribute. Premiums begin Jan. 1, 2022 and are capped at 0.58% of wages, or about $25/month for the typical worker earning $52,000.

Beginning January 2025, benefits become available to qualified, eligible individuals. To be eligible to receive the benefits, you must have contributed at least 10 years without a break of five or more years, or three of the past six years at the time you apply for the benefit and have a need for assistance with at least three activities of daily living like eating, bathing, or dressing.

WA Cares Fund Exemptions and Private Insurance

Workers who hold existing private long-term care insurance or purchase a new private policy before Nov. 1, 2021, can apply for an exemption from WA Cares coverage. If approved, their exemption means they aren’t required to pay premiums and will be permanently excluded from WA Cares benefits.

To apply for a permanent exemption, workers must:

· Have purchased a qualifying private long-term care insurance plan before Nov. 1, 2021.

· Be at least 18 years of age.

· Submit an exemption application to the Employment Security Department (ESD). Exemption applications will be available starting Oct. 1, 2021.

One of the reasons WA Cares coverage is affordable is that premiums are owed only when you are working. Private premiums are typically much more expensive not only annually but particularly over a lifetime because they must be paid until the policy holder dies or needs care, which can be difficult during periods of unemployment or child rearing, as well as on a fixed income throughout retirement.

Learn More About the WA Cares Fund

Have questions? To learn more about the WA Cares Fund:

· Visit the WA Cares Fund website.

· Visit the WA Cares Fund Learn More page to read frequently asked questions.

· Email wacaresfund@dshs.wa.gov and a member of the WA Cares Fund team will follow up with you.

· Join an upcoming webinar.

· If you have a question about exemptions, call the Employment Security Department’s WA Cares representatives at (833) 717–2273.