Hope was rising at the Legislature this year that a new approach was in the offing to help families get ready for the shock of long-term care costs.
The goal of House Bill 2533 was to create a state-wide public insurance plan similar in concept to workers compensation or unemployment insurance.
Workers of all ages would pay nearly a half-percent of their wages into a state trust. If they were later disabled, needed in-home help with bathing, cleaning or cooking, or were placed in a nursing home, they could be eligible for up to $100 a day in care benefits.
On Monday the bill died for the year — just days after a longtime backer, AARP Washington, pulled its support and said it was opposing the bill if it didn’t undergo major changes.
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Though not perfect, HB 2533 was an honest, bipartisan start on solving a problem that is a ticking financial time-bomb for many families. The legislation was based on a state consultant’s study, authorized by legislators in 2015, but it also built on work by a joint House and Senate committee that deals with disability and long-term care issues.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, called AARP’s sudden move “a real breach of trust” that came without warning just days before a key House deadline for bills.
Jinkins and Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, were co-sponsors of the bill, which received strong bipartisan votes in support from two committees. Among South Sound supporters were Republican Reps. Drew MacEwen of Union and Richard DeBolt of Chehalis.
The bill would have authorized an automatic payroll deduction averaging about $23.30 a month for millions of workers to finance the trust fund that would pay care laims.
AARP, a member of the coalition that helped pay for the study underpinning HB 2533, had concerns about how much training would be required for family members who care for a loved one. Another sticking points was whether the relatives, including spouses, could be eligible for payments from the Long Term Care Trust Fund – and if so, what accountability should be required.
In many families, long-term care is a life-changing event. Often a spouse or adult child quits a job to care for the ailing relative – if the care is given at home. Or the family spends down its assets to qualify for Medicaid coverage, which then hands the bill to taxpayers. (Medicare for retirees covers only short term costs.) Giving family members a financial incentive to pitch in makes sense.
Today only 5 percent of individuals older than age 40 in Washington have long-term care policies, though some better-off families set aside money in case it’s needed. Lifetime costs for care can average $260,000, according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The setback at the Legislature was unfortunate. But it must not kill what in essence is a good concept well worth fighting for.
Advocates including Service Employees International Union 775NW and legislators need a break but must return to this issue again.
The care problem won’t go away and in fact may only get worse.