Nurse supporting senior man to sit on wheelchair
Credit: Morsa Images/Getty Images

How state lawmakers in Washington handle the fate of their first-of-a-kind, public long-term care insurance program is being closely watched by leaders in other states. 

A Monday report by Kaiser Health News revealed that California has convened a task force to examine how to design and implement a similar program in that state, while Illinois and Michigan are also considering a similar move.

The Washington program, called WA Cares Fund, supports long-term care through a mandatory payroll tax. It was approved by the state legislature in 2019 and requires employees to pay a premium of 0.58% of their total paycheck; funds are used to help pay for nursing care and other long-term care services and supports for those who need it.

To be eligible for WA Cares Fund benefits, an employee must have worked and contributed to the fund for a total of 10 years without an interruption of five or more consecutive years; or contributed three of the last six years at time of application, having worked at least 500 hours per year.

The state was supposed to begin collecting the payroll tax in January, with benefits first set to become available in January 2025. That plan was delayed in January so lawmakers can address concerns and make any necessary adjustments to the law. The current schedule calls for payroll deductions to start in July 2023, and benefits to be available in July 2026.

Despite challenges with implementation, other states appear ready to follow in Washington’s footsteps.

“We don’t have a solution at the federal level, so states are taking it on themselves to experiment with solutions,” long-term care expert Bonnie Burns told KHN. Burns is serving as a consultant for California Health Advocates, a health insurance advocacy program.

Opponents of Washington’s program have called for the law to be optional or more flexible, while proponents say it’s necessary to help people pay for long-term care as they age. 

“We know that as the first state to do this, that it may not be perfect going out of the gate,” Jessica Gomez, manager of Washingtonians for a Responsible Future, a coalition of aging and disability advocates, told KHN. “It may have to be fixed, but we’ll fix the problems and go forward.”