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State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Wikimedia Commons

The state of Washington has passed the Long-Term Health Care Trust Act, a first-in-the-nation law that will establish funds that workers can access when they need long-term care. It's a start toward dealing with the problems faced by families of the elderly, and especially at helping older people who don't have family to help care for them at all. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature in late April, and Gov. Jay Inslee, who backed it from the start, will sign it.

Starting in 2022, a new payroll tax of .58 percent (that's 58 cents for each $100 in income) will go into a state fund available to any qualified Washingtonian. People who are self-employed can opt in to the system, too. The Intercept explains the details:

The per capita average income in Washington is about $37,000, meaning that the average monthly contribution would be about $18. Those who pay into the program for three years, or for a total of 10 years including five consecutive years, will be able to access the benefit, which, at present, maxes out at $36,500. In 30 years, as it's indexed for inflation, the benefit will be more than $88,000.

Applicants would be assessed by the state Department of Social and Health Services; if they need assistance with at least three "activities of daily living," they could then access the benefit and use it as they need -- to help pay for in-home care, respite care for family members, home modifications for accessibility like a wheelchair ramp or railings in a bathroom, meal delivery, or even paying a qualified family caretaker.


The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, says,

This is a way to try and give people a benefit that they've paid into that will be able to keep them out of poverty and accessing a broad array of services they may need.

Jinkins says she's been working toward doing something to help with long-term care since the first meeting of the Joint Legislative Executive Committee on Aging and Disability, formed in 2013. One of the other committee members asked, "Why do we make people spend themselves into poverty before they can get care? That's not right." After it passed the Senate with minor changes, Jinkins was over the moon:

I started crying in my floor speech. I got to vote for marriage equality, so I've gotten to vote for some things that I think actually change not just individual people's lives, but, kind of, the world. I think this is one of those things [...]

I think about my mother-in-law, who's in long-term care right now. I think about the challenges we've had finding the right place for her and how much this would've helped her. [...] I have every single confidence in the world that this is going to do nothing but help Washingtonians.

The bill is supported by a coalition of advocacy groups for health care, seniors, disability rights, and unions, and fortunately Washington has no shortage of those.

And the problem is huge, especially with us damn baby boomers living longer and refusing to die off like you millennials keep telling us to, ya dang kids.

Nationally, relatives spend an average of 20 percent of their own money on caregiving costs, according to the AARP, and often have to leave their jobs, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and benefits [...]

Seventy percent of Americans end up needing long-term care after turning 65, and more than 90 percent of people do not have private long-term care insurance. While Medicare does not cover the cost of most long-term care services, many individuals don't realize this until it's too late. Medicaid, however, does cover long-term care services, but to access it, individuals have to deplete their assets until they have less than $2,000 in savings, a system that literally incentivizes going into poverty.

And that's not a very smart way to run a healthcare system, damn it. An actuarial study used in preparing the bill estimates Washington should save about $3.9 billion in Medicaid costs by 2052, which, this being Washington, they'll probably blow on weed subsidies for hippie artists. Or green energy. With weed.

The Long-Term Care Trust Act faced opposition from some Republicans, with the usual whining about imposing a new tax on people. Not even the potential Medicaid savings impressed Republican state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, who whined that with a state budget projected to be well over $200 billion, why, that's hardly any savings at all.

Plus, it's just not fair how some people will be getting old sooner and drawing benefits paid in by young folks, said Stokesbary, who has apparently never heard of a thing called Social Security. Plus the fact that anyone who meets the qualifications can access the benefits, even if they're filthy poors!

Under this system, everybody gets the same benefit regardless of how short or long they work for, and regardless of how much they earn [...] Some people, the people who have lower wages or work a less amount of time, will get more money out than they pay in. In order for that to pencil out, the people who work a longer amount of time or for higher wages will get less money out than they pay in.

Stokesbary tried to add a referendum amendment that would have sent the bill to voters, but the state House voted it down, because apparently Democrats hate freedom.

Washington's plan is the first of its kind in the USA, but other states are also taking steps to address long-term care. Hawaii, for instance, started a program in 2017 that pays family caregivers up to $70 a day to offset the costs of caring for a loved one. Other states have passed paid family leave that can provide some time off from outside work, limited though that may be. And now both the House and Senate versions of Medicare for All propose covering long-term care. Hell, it almost looks like this country might start thinking about options for long-term care that might save money and not impoverish seniors. Weird, but we could get used to it!

[Intercept / Washington State Wire / Washington State Wire / Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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