The WA Cares Fund is a public insurance program designed to help simplify long-term care planning in Washington state. All working Washingtonians contribute a small percentage of their income into the fund. Then when you need care, you can access your earned benefit of $36,500 (adjusted up to inflation) to pay for services.
Nearly 70% of Washingtonians will need long-term care at some point in their lives. But most people in the state haven’t had a way to pay for it. Because long-term care is not medical care, it’s almost never covered by health insurance or Medicare. To qualify for Medicaid long-term care, you must spend down your life savings to just $2,000. The WA Cares Fund is an earned benefit that makes long-term care insurance affordable for all Washington workers as they age, without income or asset tests.
How WA Cares Works
Workers contribute 0.58% of each paycheck during their working years to be able to access a $36,500 lifetime benefit (adjusted annually for inflation) that can help pay for long-term care services when needed.
Workers begin contributing to WA Cares on July 1, 2023. Beginning July 2026, each person who is eligible to receive the full WA Cares Fund benefit can access long-term care services and supports costing up to $36,500 (adjusted annually up to inflation). In order to use your benefit, you must meet a contribution requirement as well as a care need requirement.
How WA Cares Benefits Washington Residents
WA Cares is designed to help you live independently in your home as long as possible. Benefits can be used for a wide range of services, including:
- In-home caregivers, including care providers who can help you with personal care and household chores in your home
- Residential care, including care provided in an adult family home, assisted living, nursing home or other facility
- Home accessibility, including home safety evaluations, wheelchair ramps or lifts, grab bars, and more
- Meal delivery, including nutritious meals or prescription nutrition delivered to your home
- Rides & transportation, including scheduled rides to and from appointments or grocery shopping
- Mobility & assistive devices, including wheelchairs, walkers, personal emergency response systems, medication reminders, and more
- Care supplies, Feeding supplies, adult diapers, wound care, nebulizer kits, and more
- Caregiver support services & training, Education & training, respite care, care coordination, and more
With your WA Cares benefit, you’ll have up to $36,500 (adjusted annually up to inflation) to spend on covered services. For about a third of people, this amount could cover all the care they need in a lifetime. For everyone else, it will provide immediate relief from long-term care costs without the need to spend down their savings, as well as time to plan for any future needs. For people with private long-term care insurance, WA Cares can help cover the benefit waiting period.
Eligibility for Exemption from the Washington State Long-Term Care Payroll Tax
Almost all Washington workers will contribute to WA Cares—but several groups of workers are either automatically exempt or eligible for voluntary exemptions. They include:
These people automatically do not contribute:
- Federal employees who work in Washington
- Employees of tribal businesses in which the tribe has not opted in
- People who are self-employed who have not opted in
- Retired and non-working Washingtonians
The following can take a voluntary exemption from paying the tax:
- Workers who had private long-term care insurance before Nov. 1, 2021. If you fell into this category, you had until December 31, 2022, to apply for a permanent exemption. Your approved private insurance exemption is permanent, and you cannot re-enroll in the program.
- Veterans with a 70% or higher service-connected disability. If this describes you, you can apply for a permanent exemption. Applications for this type of exemption became available on January 1, 2022, and remain available to you.
- Workers who live out of state, temporary workers with non-immigrant visas, and spouses/registered domestic partners of active-duty service members of the U.S. armed forces. Since 2022, if you fall into either of those categories, you can apply for conditional exemptions. You can apply for these exemptions at any time. You will qualify for these exemptions only as long as these circumstances currently apply. You must notify your employer and the Employment Security Department (ESD) within 90 days if you no longer qualify.
You should make sure to submit your exemption application to ESD. If your application is approved, you need to provide your exemption letter to your employer as soon as possible to make sure that premiums aren’t deducted from your paycheck. You will not be entitled to any refunds on deductions if you don’t submit your letter in time.
The Impact of the WA Cares Fund for Washington Residents
The WA Cares Fund is a first-in-the-nation program created by the state legislature in 2019. WA Cares is the result of years of research on how to make long-term care affordable for working Washingtonians.
WA Cares Fund provides Washington workers a way to earn access to long-term care benefits that will be available when they need them. It will cover most of the needs of some people, while for others, it will provide breathing room during one of life’s most challenging stages, giving the family time to develop a plan.
The vast majority of Washingtonians who contribute to the fund will earn benefits that exceed the amount they’ve contributed. In order to contribute more than you earn in benefits, your income would have to exceed $210,000 on average for 30 years.
Contributions to the WA Cares Fund will make it much easier for state residents and their loved ones to age with dignity and independence, supporting all of Washington’s families when they need it most.
WA Cares will help more family caregivers stay in the workforce, maintain financial stability, and avoid burnout. The fund will also prepare communities in the state to be more resilient during the coming age wave.
Get In Touch With an Estate Planning Attorney
For help with long-term care planning in Washington, you should reach out to the elder law attorneys at Legacy Law Group in Eastern Washington, Spokane Valley, and Spokane itself. Contact us at (509) 315-8087 today to get started.