Long term care costs are about to get a little less painful

A first-in-the-nation program funded by workers will provide financial help to defray expenses.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law Monday pioneering a first-in-the-nation effort to lessen the financial blow of long-term care costs for thousands of residents.

It creates a new program, funded by workers through a payroll deduction, that will provide eligible recipients with a maximum lifetime benefit of $36,500 — money they can spend on expenses from in-home care to getting a wheelchair ramp constructed at their house.

“It’s great,” said Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, who attended the bill signing in the state reception room. “Long-term care costs are extraordinary. Every family in my district and in districts across the state has had the experience of a family member who needed long-term care and could not afford it.”

House Bill 1087 establishes the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program. Similar to Social Security, employees finance it from their paychecks and, after working enough years and if deemed eligible, will be able to access the benefits.

Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, the prime sponsor of the companion bill in the Senate, called it “the right thing to do” because it will provide assistance to people when they most need it. And it will prove to be a fiscally responsible approach as the state reduces its Medicaid expenditures related to long-term care.

“This was never meant to solve the entire long-term care problem of our society. It is going to help an enormous amount,” he said. Studies show a majority of people use long-term care for less than a year and this will help them bridge the financial gap, he said.

Starting in 2022, workers will see a deduction from their paychecks equal to 58 cents per each $100 of earnings. For a person who makes $50,000 a year it would add up to $290. Employers are not required to pay into the program.

A fiscal analysis estimates roughly $1 billion will be collected in the first full fiscal year and nearly double that collected before any benefits are doled out.

Benefits will become available starting in 2025 to people who are determined by the state Department of Social and Health Services to need assistance with at least three “activities of daily living” such as bathing, dressing or administration of medication. The maximum benefit will begin at $36,500 and climb with inflation.

Those eligible will be able to use the money to cover the cost of items such as in-home care, a wheelchair ramp, rides to the doctor and home-delivered meals. It also can go to reimburse expenses incurred by unpaid family caregivers.

To be eligible, a person will have to be paying the payroll tax while working at least 500 hours in a year for at least three of the six years prior to seeking the benefit. Or they can work a total of 10 years, with at least five of those paid without interruption.

If a worker can show they have long-term care insurance, they will be exempt from paying the premium.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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