Washington's attempt to pass a long-term care tax failed. Here's why, and what's next.

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A bipartisan effort to help seniors pay for nursing home care died last week when Washington's state Legislature ended its 2018 session.

A bill would have collected a payroll tax to establish a long-term care fund, eventually funneling $100 per day for up to 365 days to eligible adults in nursing homes, their residences or other community settings.

For a few weeks this year, the rarest of things seemed like it was about to occur, observers believed. A state, in this case Washington, was working to pass a bill that would institute a new payroll tax to help cover the cost of a much-needed service: long-term care in a nursing home, in a personal residence or elsewhere in the local community.

Ron Lieber, Your Money columnist for the New York Times, was impressed an effort to start a new tax got off the ground, even if it was proposed to “keep less affluent older people from obliterating their savings and ending up on Medicaid.”

“We have a big problem paying for long-term care in this country, although most people don't wake up to the challenge until it affects their family directly,” Lieber wrote in a column explaining the bill's fate.

Once AARP officially came out against the legislation, raising questions about who could qualify as a caregiver under the proposal and inspiring a letter-writing campaign, that effort collapsed.

But Democrat Laurie Jinkins has a 92-year-old mother-in-law with dementia who just qualified for Medicaid. And Republican Norm Johnson saw his father end up on Medicaid after running through his savings to care for Johnson's mother.

Jinkins and Johnson say they will work harder next year to negotiate a workable bill, which would make Washington the second state to support caregivers or ailing seniors' families. Hawaii earlier this year launched the Kupuna Caregivers Assistance program, which lets caregivers working at least 30 hours a week receive stipend of up to $70 per day.

Lieber predicted it will take longer to pass a payroll tax that affects nearly every working resident.

“Could we all have dropped everything in our lives and answered all these questions sooner?”  Doug Shadel, AARP's state director in Washington, asked in Lieber's column. “Maybe. But we're inventing a new social system to fix a difficult social problem.”