Most workers in Washington state have been paying 58 cents for every $100 in earnings to fund the WA Cares program since July of 2023.  The money funds a program to provide some long-term care coverage for Washington residents.

Now, many Washington state agencies are anticipating a slew of Washington residents will opt-out of the program and end their mandatory payroll tax deductions if I-2124 is approved by voters in November.

Center Square Washington reports officials from Washington State Employment Security Department, the Washington State Health Care Authority and some legislators recently gathered for a meeting of the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Commission.  The State Actuary Matt Smith told them if the initiative passes, plan for a flood of opt-outs from WA Cares.

“A voluntary program can lead to people leaving, and you have a decrease in premiums coming in,” Smith said.  He went on to say, “The program could become unstable, unsustainable, and what I mean by that is the inability to collect premiums that are high enough per person, to cover benefit payments.”  --State Actuary Matt Smith

WA Cares has come under heavy criticism since 2019, when Washington became the first state to create a publicly funded program to cover the costs of long-term care. Payroll deductions began in 2023 and the benefits become available in 2026

By the end of 2024, the average worker earning $75K annually will have paid approximately $650 through payroll deductions.  The deductions will not be refunded if the initiative passes and an individual elects to opt-out of WA Cares.

Among the chief concerns were the maximum lifetime benefit would be only $36,500.  Although WA Cares calls for adjustments for inflation in future years, critics point out the benefit will only provide about 3 months of benefits for most people in a long-term care setting.  People moving out of state lose the benefits they paid into and younger workers could pay far more into the program than benefits received.

Supporters of WA Cares say the program can help fund vital medical equipment like mobility aids or scooters or safety ramps to improve access at home.

This November, voters have the chance to approve Initiative 2124 which allows workers to opt out of the mandatory reduction and making WA Cares a voluntary program.

In 2021, Washington residents were granted an opt-out if they could prove they had a long term care policy in effect.

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