Long-term health care tax debated in WA Legislature

Apr 12, 2023, 5:55 PM | Updated: 6:19 pm

Long-term health...

Long-term health patient awaits treatment. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Legislature is taking on the touchy subject of the state’s long-term health care tax.

This session, they are discussing HB-1011, which would repeal the state’s long-term health law. That law created WA Cares, a social program that would be funded by a payroll tax of 58 cents for every $100 earned.

The WA Cares Fund would be capped at $36,500 per individual. According to the WA Policy Center and many others, that total is inadequate or might give the false impression to people that they are secure in their long-term coverage.

A sponsor of the current bill, Rep. Peter Abarrno (R-20th District), agrees with the Policy Center.

“Many will end up contributing more to the program than they’ll ever get out of it in benefits,” Abbarno said. “If you’re going to retire out of state, you’ll never reuse those services.”

The WA Care Fund argues the law will help you stay in your home when you need support and assist with costs.

“It’s important to realize that wages are going up so much faster than the rate of the benefits,” Abbarno explained. “And it’s just amazing to think about if they took that same amount of money and just invested it in even just the stock market, for instance, you would have more money for long-term care planning, it would be more flexible, and it’d be portable to other states.

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“We should be incentivizing it, not punishing people and sticking them in a really short-term care program.”

State voters recommended the repeal of House Bill 1087 in Washington Advisory Vote 20, with a vote of nearly 63%.

Many medical organizations project seven in 10 Washingtonians over the age of 65 will need long-term services and support within their lifetimes.

According to its website, WA Cares Fund will provide services and support that will include:

  • Professional personal care in your home, an assisted living facility, an adult family home, or a nursing home
  • Training and support for paid and unpaid family members who provide care
  • Adaptive equipment and technology like hearing devices and medication reminder devices
  • Home safety evaluations
  • Home-delivered meals
  • Care transition coordination
  • Memory care
  • Environmental modifications like wheelchair ramps
  • Personal emergency response system
  • Transportation
  • Dementia supports
  • Education and consultation

The Policy Center says many workers won’t qualify for the benefit, regardless of how much they pay. They call it a “regressive tax,” which means some low-income workers will be forced to hand over a portion of their income to benefit others with higher incomes and who may not need assistance.

A program exemption included in HB 1087 allowed nearly 500,000 people who learned of the exemption in time to apply to opt out of the program. More exemptions are expected.

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Long-term health care tax debated in WA Legislature