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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Ben Veghte: As long-term care needs grow, WA Cares offers long-term solution for working Washingtonians

By Ben Veghte

By Ben Veghte

As we approach the start of contributions to the WA Cares Fund, the state’s new long-term care insurance program, there are understandable questions about the program, its costs and the benefits.

Most Americans will need some form of long-term care, and as our population ages and the caregiver shortage worsens, this need will only grow. Yet most people do not have, cannot afford, or do not qualify for private long-term care insurance. WA Cares is intended to provide access to long-term care for the broad middle class. Without WA Cares, people who need care are forced to pay for everything out of pocket and often spend down their life savings to just $2,000 to qualify for Medicaid. Loved ones must step in and use their own resources or provide unpaid care, often sacrificing their own economic security in the process.

In short, the system is profoundly broken, and people deserve more than these fend-for-yourself options.

Washington state created WA Cares as a first step toward a real solution. With a modest premium, working Washingtonians will now have an affordable way to access care when they need it, including in-home care, a paid family caregiver, home modifications, meal delivery, transportation and more.

Washington workers will contribute 0.58% of each paycheck to WA Cares. For someone making $50,000 annually, this amounts to about $290 per year, or less than one dollar per day. After 10 years, workers are fully vested and can access a benefit of up to $36,500 (adjusted up to inflation) to help pay for long-term care. Near-retirees (those born before 1968) can earn pro-rated benefits for each year they contribute. And people in midcareer who experience an accident or illness can access their benefits if they have contributed at least three of the past six years.

For most people, WA Cares offers a solid return on investment – with benefits exceeding contributions – as well as more independence and genuine peace of mind. Those who want additional insurance can purchase it from the private market.

Rarely is any important innovation, public or private, perfect from the get-go. Look no further than the social programs implemented in the past century to address a pressing need – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. None was flawless from the start. All were met with early opposition.

Yet today these programs are broadly popular, and millions of Americans rely on the security they provide.

The WA Cares Fund can and will evolve over time, and it will improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians in the coming decades. While it’s crucial for us to continue making improvements to the program, we shouldn’t miss the larger point, which is that WA Cares is a first-of-its-kind program to address a mounting and dire problem.

WA Cares leaders continue to listen to feedback and recommend changes. But WA Cares is an important and innovative step forward that will help Washington workers take care of our families and age with dignity and independence.

Benjamin Veghte, MPA, Ph.D., is the director of the WA Cares Fund at the Department of Social and Health Services. He lives in University Place, Washington.