(The Center Square) — It’s official: Implementation of the Washington Long-Term Care Trust Act – better known as WA Cares – is delayed 18 months.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced at the top of a Thursday afternoon press conference from the Capitol Building in Olympia that minutes earlier he had signed House Bill 1732, which pauses implementation of the program and the tax that pays for it until July 1, 2023.
The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday with a 46-3 vote after having passed the House the previous week.
He also signed a related bill, House Bill 1733, which makes changes to the program itself, including the choice to opt-out under certain circumstances. That bill would allow some disabled veterans, military spouses, and temporary workers to opt-out.
Individuals who would not be eligible to receive benefits and those with their own private coverage plans also can opt-out under the new legislation.
“We know that seven in 10 Washingtonians over the age of 65 will need long-term care,” Inslee said. “And this bill – new, improved bill – is a really important piece in their life plans.”
He went on to say, “So, this long-term care bill is a really important piece of what we’re doing in Washington to make sure everyone can thrive and be healthy. And I’m glad legislators in a very rapid way made improvements to the bill.”
In responding to a reporter’s question about the chances of the program being delayed again in 2023, Inslee was confident that would not be the case.
“I think it’s like many things,” he said. “You refine things as you go along, and these are really important improvements that were made. I don’t see any rocky road ahead of us in that regard.”
In answering another reporter’s question, the governor shot down any notion that participation in WA Cares should be voluntary.
“It doesn’t work,” Inslee emphatically replied. “It just doesn’t work. You know, you can’t make a protective policy like this built on rainbows and lollipops. You have to have a revenue stream to make it available to everyone.”
A WA Cares 0.58% payroll tax was supposed to kick in Jan. 1, but that plan was derailed in part by lawmakers concerned about people paying into the program who would not be eligible to receive benefits.
Last month, Inslee announced the payroll tax would be delayed until April, unless the legislature intervened to set a new date. The governor subsequently announced he had no authority to delay the tax, saying that employers were still legally obligated to pay the state.
Employees who have already had premiums deducted from their paychecks should expect a refund within 120 days.