WA Cares July 1 launch will mark critical milestone in preparing Washingtonians for long-term care challenges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — June 27, 2023

Contact: jessica.nelson1@dshs.wa.gov

OLYMPIA, WA — The WA Cares Fund, Washington state’s new long-term care insurance program, launches on Saturday, July 1, when more than three million Washingtonians will begin earning benefits.

“The kick-off of WA Cares represents a critical step toward addressing the long-term care crisis in our state,” said WA Cares Fund Director Ben Veghte, Ph.D. “Over time, I hope WA Cares will provide Washington families with the feeling of support and security they get from similar social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare.”

By contributing 0.58% of each paycheck to WA Cares through automatic payroll deductions during their working years, workers will earn access to a $36,500 lifetime benefit (adjusted annually for inflation) to help pay for long-term care services when needed. Employers are required to withhold contributions from workers’ paychecks, so workers do not need to take any action themselves to participate.

WA Cares is designed to help people with long-term care needs stay in their homes as long as they choose and covers a wide range of services, including in-home care, paying a family caregiver, home safety modifications, home-delivered meals, transportation and more. Workers begin contributing to WA Cares on July 1, 2023, and benefits will become available July 1, 2026.

The risk all Washingtonians face

Around 70% of Washingtonians will need long-term care at some point in their lives, but most don’t have a way to pay for it. Private long-term care insurance is only affordable for the highest earners. Before WA Cares, people who need care were forced to pay out of pocket despite living on a fixed income or spend down their life savings down to just $2,000 to qualify for Medicaid. Loved ones had no choice but to fill the gap with their own savings or unpaid caregiving, often sacrificing their own financial security in the process.

“The system of paying for long-term care in this country is broken,” said Veghte. “The vast majority of Washingtonians don’t even have enough saved for a comfortable retirement, much less long-term care.”

For the 820,000 family caregivers in Washington, the impact is significant. On average, caregivers spend 25% of their own income on care-related expenses for their family members. Many caregivers end up quitting their jobs or reducing their hours to provide care for their loved ones, like sisters Sun-Hee and Yunhee, who live in Seattle and care for their mother full-time.

“It was what I needed to do to support my mom and my sister, so we could both care for her in the way we wanted to, but I definitely felt it financially,” said Yunhee.

Not everyone who needs long-term care is over age 65. Sawyer, who lives in Ellensburg, became paralyzed at the age of 19 and has used a wheelchair ever since.

“I think people have the misconception that long-term care is only for the elderly or has to be live-in help. For me, long-term care is extra support that allows me to remain independent,” said Sawyer. “You never know when you may become disabled. I thought I was invincible.”

Providing more security for working Washingtonians

Washington state is the first in the nation to take meaningful steps to protect the broad middle class from this increasingly dire problem by ensuring all working Washingtonians can access a modest but critical amount of long-term care coverage.

For the typical covered worker making just over $50,000 per year, contributions will be about $24 a month, or less than a dollar a day. Most workers who participate will be eligible to receive more in benefits than they pay into the program. In fact, workers who claim benefits would have to earn more than $210,000 every year for the next 30 years to contribute more into the WA Cares Fund than they will be eligible to receive for long-term care needs.

Almost all Washington workers will contribute to WA Cares starting in July. While exemptions are no longer available for people who have private long-term care insurance, four new groups of workers who are unlikely to be able to use benefits will be eligible for exemptions on an ongoing basis.

To receive benefits, workers must meet contribution requirements and need help with at least three activities of daily living like eating, bathing, and moving around the house.

For about a third of people, the $36,500 lifetime benefit (adjusted for inflation) will be enough to cover all the care they need. For everyone else, it will provide families with immediate relief from long-term care costs without the need to spend down their life savings, as well as time to develop a plan for how to take care of their loved one.

“With our aging society, we would all do well to start having kitchen table conversations about how we want to live as we age and how we are going to make it work financially,” said Veghte. “I hope that the launch of WA Cares will kick-start these conversations while also providing critical resources to help families enjoy more dignity and independence as they cope with the difficult challenges that come with dementia or other long-term care needs.”

Media availability

The WA Cares Fund team will host a media availability on Wednesday, June 28 from 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. Join to hear from:

· Ben Veghte, WA Cares Fund Director at the Department of Social and Health Services

· Justin DeFour, Leave and Care Division Director at the Employment Security Department

· KD, a family caregiver from Shoreline, WA

· Sawyer, a long-term care recipient from Ellensburg, WA

To receive Zoom details for the availability, please register to participate. This availability is only for members of the news media. To ensure your registration is approved, please use your work email and include the name of your news outlet.

A recording will be posted on the WA Cares YouTube channel after the availability is over.

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