Washington lawmakers consider funding long-term care

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More than 800,000 Washingtonians are family caregivers. (StockSnap/Pixabay)

With Washingtonians aging rapidly, how will the state provide long-term care? Many groups believe the bipartisan legislation known as the Long-Term Care Trust Act is one solution.

The novel program would provide long-term care insurance through a payroll deduction of about 0.5 percent. Those funds would then be able to fully cover the average cost for in-home care for one year.

Sarita Gupta, co-director of the group Caring Across Generations, said this legislation would be especially helpful for Washington’s 830,000 family caregivers taking care of their Baby Boomer parents.

“They’re living much longer than ever before – about 20 years longer than when our safety net was put into place,” Gupta said. “So, we need more supports around elder care, and a lot of the financial burden is actually falling on families.”

Gupta said it’s important to note that Medicare does not cover long-term care.

Last week, the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness held a public hearing on House Bill 2533, and the Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care had a public hearing on its companion bill.

University of Hawaii political science professor Lawrence Nitz is in Olympia supporting the bills. Last year, Hawaii passed similar legislation to provide funds for working caregivers.

Nitz said this type of legislation is crucial, not only to keep down health care costs for state budgets, but also because it allows family caregivers to keep working.

“Every time we have someone leave the labor force unnecessarily, when a little bit of money could have kept them there, this is a loss to the economy,” Nitz said. “We lose their whole wage, and that adds up very quickly.”

Nitz said long-term care insurance from the private sector typically benefits the wealthy because they are the only ones able to afford it over a long period of time.

Gupta said if the country doesn’t seize the opportunity to get ahead of this issue and build a long-term care infrastructure, many families could be heading toward a financial cliff.

“We’ll have millions of families who will be struggling and juggling to meet their care needs, and many who will fall through the cracks,” Gupta said. “And so, the urgency is now, the opportunity is now before it reaches that level of crisis.”

The legislation is receiving support from a broad range of groups, including the state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Casa Latina and the caregivers’ union SEIU 775.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (WA)

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