John O'Connor
John O’Connor
John O’Connor

Look, Washington state’s public insurance program is far from perfect. But if some opponents have their way, it’ll never even get started. And that would be a real loss.

Given what it strives to do – improve long-term care services and funding – it deserves every chance to succeed.

For those who may be unfamiliar, the Washington Cares program is set to start imposing a 0.58% payroll deduction on the state’s workers in January. Then, beginning in 2025, eligible beneficiaries can start claiming up to $36,500 to help pay for care.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that this program is being launched. What should be surprising is that other states continue to sit on the sidelines. Which begs an obvious question: What, exactly, are they waiting for?

Long-term care costs are set to challenge state budgets as never before. Yet only one of them has done more than hold out a tin cup for Medicaid, Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans to fill. Talk about taking chances!

The reality is that many and perhaps most people in our nation will need some kind of long-term care assistance before they die. Yet relatively few have set aside anywhere near enough to cover the tab.

Basic skilled care services can easily exceed six figures a year. Assisted living is not trailing terribly far behind. And that’s just for bottom-shelf care; the good stuff can cost far more.

To its credit, Washington state is actually addressing the looming payment and service crisis. But as was noted earlier, its program is far from perfect. Casual critics claim its architects miscalculated opt outs, should have worked closer with insurers and should have taken a more comprehensive approach.

Then there’s the really angry crowd: A group of employees recently filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Washington seeking to completely halt the initiative. Their lawyers insist the program violates several federal and state laws, including an employee’s right to benefits after paying into a benefit program.

To be fair, those are all legitimate concerns. But here’s the thing: Perhaps instead of burying the first real state program to tackle a looming crisis, maybe it should be improved instead?

It would seem long-term care providers should have some skin in this game. At the very least, the program could put billions of new dollars into operators’ pockets. And oh, by the way, improve care. That’s particularly true should the concept get replicated elsewhere.

But the way things are going, that may never happen. There’s a term that describes such a result: lose-lose.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.