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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Ben Veghte: WA Cares a benefit to state’s workers

Ben Veghte

By Ben Veghte

At 44 years old, Christina Keys was in the prime of her career at a successful technology company. All that changed when her 62-year-old mother suffered a stroke. Christina set aside her plans, career, and salary to become her mother’s full-time caregiver.

Seven in 10 Washingtonians will need long-term care and most don’t have savings or insurance to cover this. Christina quickly learned that her mother’s Medicare and supplemental health insurance didn’t cover the long-term care services her mother needed for daily living, like help getting dressed, eating, bathing, and toileting. She began to pay for her mother’s care out of pocket and then out of both of their retirement savings – all while forgoing her salary.

We all want to age with dignity and independence. This goal is only attainable, however, if the person needing care has money to pay for it or family members who are willing and financially able to make the kinds of sacrifices Christina made.

There is now a better way. To make long-term care affordable for all of us, Washington created the WA Cares Fund. We contribute to WA Cares while working and earn benefits to use when we need them. Because this program is self-funded from worker contributions, near-retirees will be the first to benefit, followed by all succeeding generations of workers in the state.

For Christina, the $36,500 WA Cares benefit (which is adjusted annually up to inflation) would have covered about a year of services for her mother and given Christina time to plan for her mother’s care. Christina’s family could have used the benefit to hire a professional caregiver or compensate Christina for the time she spent caring for her mom and unable to work.

WA Cares is a first-in-the-nation program and, like all new programs, needed some fine-tuning. This year, the Legislature made key improvements that addressed the public’s most frequent concerns and set WA Cares Fund on a path to success.

For each year near-retirees (born before 1968) contribute, they now earn 10% of the full benefit amount. If a near-retiree ends up working and contributing for 10 years or more, they will still earn the full benefit.

Starting Jan. 1, workers who live out of state, military spouses, workers on nonimmigrant visas, and veterans with a service-connected disability of 70% or greater can choose to opt out of the program.

These changes make WA Cares Fund an even better deal for Washingtonians. Not only are WA Cares premiums cheaper on an annual basis for most workers than private long-term care insurance, they’re far less expensive over a lifetime, because we only pay into WA Cares while we are working. With most private insurance, policyholders continue to pay after retirement until they die or need care. If they can’t afford to maintain the coverage on a fixed income, they lose it. With WA Cares, women don’t pay more than men, and no one is denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

In addition to making these improvements, the legislature also asked the LTSS Trust Commission to research ways to make benefits portable for people who earn them but move out of the state before claiming.

By contributing to the WA Cares Fund, we are all better prepared to age with dignity and independence. WA Cares gives families peace of mind and allows them to focus on care, not costs, when a loved one needs support. WA Cares Fund will give you and your family more control over your quality of life in some of life’s most difficult moments.

To learn more about the program and recent improvements, visit wacaresfund.wa.gov.

Ben Veghte is the director of the WA Cares Fund for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services in Lacey, Washington.

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