Lawmakers push payroll tax for long-term care insurance plan

Jan 17, 2019, 5:41 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2019, 10:11 am
washington governor, health care, transit...
The Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. (AP)

Experts say 60 percent of us will need long-term care or support of some sort after we hit 65.

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The problem? Not a lot of us plan for it.

That’s why Democratic State Rep. Laurie Jinkins has introduced the Long Term Care Trust Act, which she says would work similarly to unemployment.

“What we do is create, essentially an insurance program where folks pay a premium of 0.58 of a percent, so 58 cents of every hundred dollars they earn would go into the trust. In return, any time they needed long-term care they’d be able to draw on that,” Jinkins explained.

Workers of all ages would pay into the program, at a cost of around $24 a month for someone earning $50,000 a year.

That creates a benefit of roughly $37,000 over a person’s lifetime they could take in units of $100.

“That amount of money, for example, would pay for 25 hours a week of in-home care over the course of a year, respite care for one of your family members who was getting care; it would pay for that for maybe five years. So, it’s a pretty significant benefit for people,” Jinkins said.

In a House committee hearing Wednesday, Dan Murphy, executive director of the Northwest Regional Council explained who this would benefit.

“People need long-term care when they can no longer do basic things themselves. Things like bathing, dressing, getting out of a chair, a bed getting into a car, managing their medications or just even standing, walking around. That’s what we’re really talking about in the assistance lift, when folks can’t any longer do things for themselves,” Murphy said.

An outside study authorized by the Legislature back in 2015 found there is a significant need for this, with seven of 10 people over 65 years old expected to need this type of care.

“We’re talking about people with complex medical conditions, significant dementia … many mental health diagnoses included in this population and those folks never really saw themselves in this position. We all want to believe we’re going to be in the three in 10 who don’t need this,” Murphy told the committee.

But that’s not the case, and he says with most of us not planning ahead, people are left with few options.

“They soldier on, these individuals do what they can for as long as they can. They modify their daily routines. They limit their own mobility so they feel safe, and that works up to a point until there’s a fall or they miss taking important medications. And the other piece of what happens in terms of their current options is the family members help out,” He said.

In fact, Murphy says there is an estimated 830,000 unpaid family members providing long-term care to their loved ones in the state right now.

This plan would allow those caregivers to be paid, or bring someone else in.

One woman, who cared for her aging mother and grandmother, told the committee would have had a huge impact on her family.

“The Long Term Care Trust Act would have provided more options. It could have provided financing and ensured my mother and grandmother received quality and affordable care, while allowing me to stay in the work force,” she said, explaining that her family was still feeling the financial impact.

This would also keep those who need the care from having to spend themselves broke in order to qualify for Medicaid to get long term care.

An outside study found this would lead to big savings for Medicaid over time, close to $900 million in the 2051-53 biennium.

Should the bill pass, starting in 2022, people working at least 10 percent of full-time hours would start paying into the program at .58 percent of their earnings.

Benefits would become available in 2025 for those who qualify, which means they’ve paid into the program for either three of the last six years, or a total of 10 years, with five consecutive.

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They would also have to meet the criteria of needing assistance for three qualifying activities, like bathing, eating, and using the restroom.

The trust would be run by DSHS, which, among many other duties, would determine when a person qualifies for benefits.

The Employment Security Department would handle payroll deductions and monitor solvency of the program.

The Health Care Authority, which, among other things, would keep tabs on services being provided, and the status of those providing the services as qualified providers.

There would also be a commission made up of lawmakers, department leaders running the program, and representatives from a variety of agencies, that would be required to report annually to the Legislature on the program.

A similar bill last session moved quickly, but hit a snag at the last minute when the AARP dropped its support citing several concerns, including that the version didn’t allow the benefit to be used to pay family care givers.

That has been remedied in this bill which has bi-partisan support and faced no opposition at Wednesday’s hearing.

It’s expected to be voted out of committee next week.

Correction, 1/18/19: Quotes from Dan Murphy, Executive Director of the Northwest Regional Council, were misattributed to Lonnie Johns-Brown with the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office. Article has been amended to properly reflect Mr. Murphy’s public hearing testimony.

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Lawmakers push payroll tax for long-term care insurance plan