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Explaining WA Cares Long-Term Care Program, How You Pay In And Take Out

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Courtesy of Washington Cares Fund
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Many are attempting to opt out of Washington Cares, the state’s new taxpayer-funded long-term care program that will take effect next year. In January, employees will start having money taken from their checks. They’ll contribute until they stop working.

The state allows them to withdraw from the program if they have private long-term care coverage.Some, especially people nearing retirement, are trying to opt out because of a confusing provision in the program. Its website says Washington Cares will begin paying benefits in January 2025. But it also says residents must have paid into the program for 10 years before they can collect.
 
If people have to contribute for 10 years, why will the state begin paying benefits in three years? Who will be eligible then? What’s the incentive to stay with the program if people feel like they’ll never have a chance to recoup what they’ve paid?

For answers, we called Ben Veghte, who administers the program for the Department of Social and Health Services. He says there are two ways people qualify to receive benefits.
 
Ben Veghte: “There’s a permanent vesting pathway where you pay in 10 years. But there, also a temporary vesting pathway where you pay in for three years. That’s why the program starts paying benefits in 2025. If you paid in three of the last six years, you’re eligible for benefits. So that can help people who need care soon after they retire due to some kind of health incident, for example, or a fall or an injury or an illness or say if someone, God forbid, were to get cancer soon after they retired. That temporary vesting would give them care to help them with that. It also helps people who are mid-career and have a motorcycle accident or a bike accident or a ski accident. Those people are also helped by that. A couple of other things to keep in mind are that, for example, people say they’re going to retire, but most people when they retire don’t just go sit on the couch until they pass away, right? A lot of people, they help with their church or maybe you help a son or daughter with their business one day a week. If you work 500 hours a year, which is one-quarter time, which is a little over one day a week, you can earn an additional vesting year for any year that you do that.”
 
We took, as an example, a woman who is eyeing retirement within 10 years.
 
Ben Veghte: “If she were to work seven or eight years and then retire and then work one or two years after that and then pay in based on those two years, either as an employee or as a self-employed person, then she would get to 10 years of vesting. So that’s one way to do it. I think a lot of people, because it’s their plan or just because they need the extra money for retirement, end up doing something like that. Another thing to keep in mind is the LTSS Trust Commission, which oversees our program, is very much aware of this challenge, of people nearing retirement, and they formed a work group to look at this issue and make recommendations. So they are meeting this summer and fall to make recommendations to the full commission and the full commission is going to make recommendations to the legislature in their report at the end of the year about ways to make it easier for people nearing retirement to vest in the program.”
 
That’s Ben Veghte, who is administering the Washington Cares program. Employees will begin paying into the program next January, $.58 for every $100 you make. The program provides a lifetime benefit of $36,500. In order to get an exemption and avoid the payroll deduction, you’ll have to prove to the state by November 1 that you have a private long-term care plan.

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