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Confusion remains over WA Cares exemptions based on private insurance plans

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(The Center Square) – There seems to be some confusion among certain state agencies about workers who received exemptions from WA Cares, Washington’s mandatory long-term care benefit program.

The program is paid for by 58 cents out of every $100 earned deducted from their paychecks.

WA Cares provided a one-time opportunity for people to opt out, if they could show they had private long-term care insurance in place before Nov. 1, 2021. This opt-out provision is no longer available to new applicants.

Elizabeth New, policy analyst and director of the Centers for Health Care and Workers Rights at the Washington Policy Center think tank, was monitoring a WA Cares webinar last week and took note of someone asking a question she had asked many times: Do people who were approved for exemptions from WA Cares because they had or obtained private insurance plans for long-term care in 2021 need to keep their coverage?

“If you received the original WA Cares exemption, then you did attest that you would maintain long-term care, so, yes, you would still be required to maintain that,” Jeff Kendall of the state Employment Security Department said.

A few minutes later, the same question was rephrased for Kendall: “If they’ve already opted out, are they required to maintain their long-term care insurance policy?”

“Yes,” Kendall replied, “they are required to maintain the policy because that is what they attested to when they applied for it.”

But, ESD posted a note to its YouTube page of the webinar Monday morning: “Our presenter misunderstood a question about whether someone who already has a private long-term care insurance exemption needs to maintain their private policy. If you already have an approved exemption, it’s up to you to decide whether to maintain or cancel your private long-term care policy. You should speak with your broker or the agent who sold you the policy about options.”

The Center Square reached out to ESD for further clarification.

An ESD spokesperson in an email reiterated what is posted on its YouTube page, adding, “This is not a new policy and has been our FAQ answer for a long time, but our presenter in the webinar misunderstood the question and thought they were asking about canceling the exemption itself.”

New questions if the ESD presenter misunderstood the question since he responded the same way twice.

“I’m not sure ESD can even give the final clarification on this, as lawmakers can change the law whenever and however they want,” she said.

Complicating matters is Initiative 2124 which will appear on the ballot this November. I-2124 would allow employees and self-employed individuals to opt out of coverage under WA Cares.

New is concerned about the private long-term care market.

“If voters choose to have this be an optional program instead of a mandatory one, I can’t imagine many people, who only got private LTC plans to avoid WA Cares, would keep those plans,” she reasoned. “That’s unfortunate for the industry since they’ve become a victim in all this. Writing up all these policies now being canceled. It’s not good all the way around.”

State lawmakers, including Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, offered several bills during the 2024 legislative session to address some of the concerns with WA Cares, but none were given public hearings by majority party Democrats.