With the 2018 legislative session already almost halfway over in Olympia, Democrats – who now control both chambers – are working hard to move bipartisan legislation that puts people first.
In the House, we put kids first by passing the Washington Kids Ready to Learn Act, which expands highly successful programs like Breakfast After the Bell to more schools across the state. These programs ensure that kids from families with low-incomes get nutritious meals in the morning, so they start the school day ready to learn.
We put working families first by passing the Equal Pay Opportunity Act. We know that women’s salaries lag men’s, partly because of pay secrecy policies. This act bans pay secrecy, allows discussion of wages between employees, and bans retaliation against workers who discuss their pay or ask for equal pay.
And we’re putting Washington’s senior citizens and their families first with the Long-Term Care Trust Act, which I’ve sponsored together with my Republican colleague, Rep. Norm Johnson of Yakima. The bill had a public hearing last week in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, and is gaining momentum on both sides of the aisle.
Here’s why it’s important: Our state faces a looming crisis in long-term care, and we need a solution now. The Long-Term Care Trust Act is bipartisan legislation that comes from years of research on how to make long-term care more accessible and affordable for Washingtonians.
This issue will impact nearly every family at some point. Every day, an average of 10,000 people across our nation turn 65, a pace expected to continue for the next two decades. Most people will eventually need long-term care services, including help with bathing, dressing, toileting, and eating. Yet here in our state, people can’t afford the care they need.
My bill creates a long-term care insurance benefit to help seniors and their families pay for long-term care services and supports. It is fully worker financed through a one-half of one percent payroll deduction, and would be disbursed through a program overseen by a public-private commission. Those who vest – by paying into the program three out of six consecutive years, or 10 years total – would receive 365 days’ worth of benefits at $100 per day. The benefit could be used consecutively or non-consecutively, and could go toward any certified provider, including in-home care aides, adult family homes, assisted living, or skilled-nursing facilities.
What would a real-world illustration of this benefit look like? Let’s use the example of an 80-year-old Washingtonian – we’ll call her Jane – who retired at age 65 with little savings but a retirement plan from work. Everything was going fine for Jane, until dementia started to set in and her kids realized she needs someone to help her with some daily activities. Because Jane paid into the trust and became vested while she was working, she’s guaranteed $100 per day for up to 365 days to help pay for this care. This amount may cover the entire cost for what someone like Jane needs, or it would at least provide help, especially for those living on fixed incomes or relying on help from their families.
When an aging loved one needs help, family members often take on this care. My family is experiencing this firsthand, as my wife and I struggle to help care for my mother-in-law while also holding down jobs and raising our teenage son. We are far from alone in this struggle: in our state, there are 850,000 unpaid family caregivers, an informal system that is not sustainable. It’s not only unsustainable because of the burden on family members; it is unsustainable because by 2030 the pool of potential family caregivers will decline by nearly half. That has serious implications for our state budget.
Enacting the Long-Term Care Trust will save Washington taxpayers $19 million per year in Medicaid costs. Without it, state spending on Medicaid long-term care will more than double from $1.7 billion in 2015 to $4.1 billion by 2030.
We can address this problem this year. By putting people first, we can help seniors get much-needed care while avoiding or delaying Medicaid enrollment. We can help families who are caring for aging loved ones while maintaining their paid employment. We can help our businesses impacted by workers taking off to care for aging family members.
The Long-Term Care Trust Act could be another bipartisan success of the 2018 session. I’m proud to stand with my fellow legislators who are fighting for families in Olympia, and hopeful we can get this bill across the finish line this year.
Laurie Jinkins is a public health official from Tacoma who serves as a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the 27th district.