AARP Eye Center
About 1 million Washingtonians nearing retirement will now have a path to access benefits through the state’s new long-term care insurance program, under changes passed by lawmakers this year.
Key revisions to the WA Cares Fund include allowing near retirees to earn partial benefits for each year they work. Employees who live out of state and certain other groups can also apply for exemptions. And the program, which was initially set to begin this year, will launch in mid-2023, to give companies and workers time to familiarize themselves with the changes.
It’s estimated that 90 percent of Americans do not have private long-term care insurance, notes Cathy MacCaul, AARP Washington’s advocacy director. “This is a meaningful safety net.”
In 2019, the state legislature passed a first-in-the-nation law creating the WA Cares Fund, which is designed to help residents continue living independently at home as they age.
Starting July 1, 2023, an estimated 3.2 million Washington workers will be automatically enrolled in WA Cares. (Those who are self-employed can opt in.) Through payroll deduction, employees will contribute 58 cents to the fund for each $100 earned; that’s about $300 a year for someone making $52,000 annually. Then, beginning July 1, 2026, eligible workers can tap the fund to pay for services such as home-care aides.
Such a program would have been a big help to Robbie McCabe. In January 2021, McCabe, 68, was carrying lunch to her desk at her part-time job in Bremerton, when her knee suddenly buckled and she hit the floor.
“It was like it happened in slow motion,” recalls the retired office administrator.
Two broken ribs and a swollen knee left her homebound for more than a month and unable to perform basic tasks such as bathing. Her health insurance company eventually approved in-home services, but it took 10 days. A program like WA Cares may have helped McCabe pay for help in the interim. “You won’t think you’ll need it, but you never know,” she says.
Some workers exempt
The WA Cares revisions close a key coverage gap, says Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle), one of eight lawmakers on the state’s Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Commission, which monitors the program and recommended the expansion.
Employees nearing retirement can receive 10 percent of the fund’s maximum benefit for every year they work at least 500 hours, Macri explains. For instance, if someone works for two years, she would be eligible for 20 percent of the benefit.
The WA Cares lifetime benefit, which will be adjusted for inflation annually, is $36,500. That amount can cover about 20 hours a week of in-home services for a year, notes Cathy Knight, state director of the Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The fund will pay for such things as personal care, home-delivered meals, adaptive technology like hearing devices, and transportation.
Under the changes, Washington workers who live out of state or hold nonimmigrant visas, military spouses and some veterans can opt out of the program. Because state residency is required to collect the benefit, they might otherwise have paid into the fund but not been able to use it.
Those who purchased their own private long-term care insurance before Nov. 1, 2021, are also exempt.
Go to wacaresfund.wa.gov to learn more.
Chris Thomas is a writer living in Seattle.
Election assistance: Washington has primary elections Aug. 2. For information on how to vote, go to aarp.org/wavotes or sos.wa.gov/elections/voters.
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