FILE - long term care

Elderly man in nursing home, looking outside window.

(The Center Square) – At the beginning of this year’s legislative session, there was perhaps no more controversial issue than what do about the Washington Long-Term Care Trust Act, better known as WA Cares.

A 0.58% payroll tax to pay for the program was supposed to kick in on Jan. 1, but that plan was derailed at the end of last year by lawmakers concerned about people paying into the program who would not be eligible to receive benefits.

The prompted Gov. Jay Inslee’s December announcement of a delay in collections after lawmakers urged a pause to address solvency concerns and other issues raised about the first-in-the-nation program. The situation got even more complicated when Inslee subsequently announced he had no authority to delay the tax, saying employers were still legally obligated to pay the state.

Ultimately, in late January the Legislature passed and Inslee signed House Bill 1732 delaying WA Cares for 18 months.

Passed along with the delay bill was House Bill 1733, allowing Washington workers who live out of state, certain veterans with disabilities, military spouses, and workers who hold non-immigrant visas to apply for an exemption from the program.

Experts at Washington's two major free market public policy organizations were not impressed.

“There were very few silver linings to an otherwise dismal legislative session,” said Maxford Nelsen, labor policy analyst with the Freedom Foundation, in an email to The Center Square. “While the postponement of the new long-term care payroll tax was better than nothing, the program really needs to be fundamentally overhauled or scrapped entirely.”

His comments were echoed by Elizabeth Hovde, director of the Center for Worker Rights, of the Washington Policy Center,

“Long-term-care law and payroll tax machinations, as predicted, wrapped up early in the session with delay legislation,” she said in an email. “The good news? We have 18 more months to try to show lawmakers how misguided this law is, for low- and high-income wage earners, and get them to change course.”

The good news was only relative. 

"The bad news?" she said. "Many lawmakers still think they can make this long-term-care law palatable with small tweaks. Another bill adopted this session allows more exemption categories, and creates more program solvency concerns."

She concluded, "Many of the nearly 500,000 people who opted out of the social program by buying private long-term-care insurance, like the law allowed, are paying or paid for something some didn't want and didn't need. Many are confused."

Andy Nicholas, senior fellow at the progressive Washington State Budget & Policy Center, strongly supports the long-term care law.

"Our high-level take is: The Washington State Budget & Policy Center strongly supports the WA Cares insurance program, as it will greatly reduce financial hardship for millions of Washingtonians, give people the freedom to choose the kind of care they want, and reduce gender and racial inequities in our state," he said in an email to The Center Square.

Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.