FILE - long term care

Elderly man in nursing home, looking outside window.

(The Center Square) – Voters in Washington state support a new long-term care tax there by the narrowest of margins, according to a new survey by AARP.

Some 51% favor the tax, while 33% are opposed and 15% are not sure about it.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, employees face a payroll deduction of 58 cents for every $100 earned unless they purchase private long-term care insurance and opt out.

The first such publicly funded state long-term care insurance program, known as WA Cares, would pay up to $36,500 to each eligible resident beginning in 2025. The money could be used for things such as in-home care, assisted living or nursing home expenses, meal deliver and transportation.

To be eligible, a resident must have been working at least 500 hours per year and paying into the fund at least three of the previous six years. People must also need assistance with at least three activities of daily life, such as eating, bathing, dressing or medicine management.

Of those who initially said they supported the plan, 69% said they were more likely to support it after learning more details. Among the one-third of voters who are opposed, only 9% said they would be more likely to support it after learning more details.

The highest rated feature of the program is that unlike private long-term care insurance, people cannot be turned down for having a pre-existing condition, with 80% of respondents saying that was extremely, very or somewhat important.

At the same time, 53% said they were extremely, very or somewhat confident in their own ability to pay for long-term care.

The survey was conducted Aug. 10-24 among 800 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46%.

The state’s Employment Security Department said it received some 394,500 requests from people looking to opt out.

The law still faces several challenges, however, that legislators are expected to address when their 2022 session begins next month.

The original bill did not take into account people who are close to retirement and will have to pay into the fund but do not have enough working years left to qualify for the benefit, nor does it exempt people who live in Idaho or Oregon but work in Washington.

A lawsuit challenging the program says it violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which forbids states from requiring workers to participate in plans that provide medical benefits.