On Wednesday, January 24th, our policy director Josie Kalipeni traveled to Washington State to testify at a hearing for a first-in-the-nation Universal Long Term Care Trust Act. Along with our co-director, Sarita Gupta, Josie told the state legislature why this program is so vital for Washington’s caregiving families. We caught up with Josie to hear about the momentum that is building in Washington and beyond.
1. First things first – How will this bill make a difference for families?
This bill would make a huge difference for working families who provide care to an aging loved one or person with disability. People are living longer than ever before and the cost of getting older is outpacing our incomes and our savings. Families spend all of their life savings and sell assets to qualify for Medicaid. And Medicare does not cover what it should. Our systems are not ready and families are not financially prepared. Here are some jarring numbers to consider:
The current math doesn’t add up for us to age with dignity and choice. This bill changes that by allowing working Washingtonians to buy into a long-term care benefit they can count on.
2. What was the hearing like? How did legislators react to your testimony?
It was really exciting to speak on something that’s so important to so many families. But it was also heartbreaking to think that, as a country, this is where we are. The air was sucked out of the room and there were ongoing tears from story after story that demonstrated the challenges of care and caregiving.
Wives told stories of husbands dying in poverty and the shame of leaving nothing for their children after spending all of their life savings on care needs before ending up on Medicaid. Mothers told stories of having to sell childhood homes to cover the costs of care. Story after story reminded me that the age boom isn’t coming. The age boom is here. And that millions of families are feeling the squeeze in ways that warrant tough decisions that no one should have to make.
I feel very honored that I get to give a voice to countless caregiving families and hopefully help this bill move forward for them. We have to do better by aging adults, people with disabilities, and the people that provide their care and support. Washington can show us how!
3. That’s so heartbreaking – but encouraging that this bill can provide some hope for these families. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty – what’s in the bill and how would it help these families day-to-day?
The bill would provide Washingtonians with up to $100 a day to help their loved ones receive care in the setting of their choice. So in addition to home care, it could cover for assisted living, too. One of the most important parts of this bill is that it’s flexible: the program provides this benefit for up 365 days. These days can be used consecutively or intermittently. It’s really built to work for the changing needs of the modern working family.
4. What do you think is exciting about this particular campaign in Washington state?
Like all of the US, Washington state is aging rapidly with a Medicaid program struggling to keep up with the need. The state’s 850,000 unpaid family caregivers provide the majority of that care.
While demographics like this are reflected across the country, Washington state is a great place to make this legislation happen because it has already established itself as a state that cares for families and workers. Washington has had a family leave law on the books since 2007 and they continue to build on that. A critical piece of of this benefit is built on the existing infrastructure of the family leave law. There’s also a long history of advocating for the needs of care workers, including better wages and training. Washington would be the first state in the nation to have a statewide, sustainable eldercare benefit for its aging population. With bipartisan support, Washington is ready to tackle this huge need, and has a lot of the resources in place to do it!
5. How does this bill reflect on the nation as a whole?
This legislation in Washington has really been the basis for our campaign’s work across many states. If we can pass this, we can show that a universal, sustainable, long-term care public insurance program can work in America. It will become a critical proof point of what is possible. We will be able to study the impacts of such a program on the economy, on Medicaid, and on family security. Washington will become a turning point in this country from talking about the challenge our country is experiencing from the blessing of living longer to having real solutions to point to.
6. What’s next?
Both bills have to move out of their respective committees and onto appropriations. That is one big step. Once that happens, then the bills have to be called to both chamber floors for a vote, and when passed, they will head to the Governor for a signature. This sounds simple enough, but this all has to happen within a shortened legislative session. This means we all have to keep telling our stories and calling Washington legislators to make sure that this solution doesn’t get buried amongst the other state bills.
Check out some press coverage from the day:
State needs long-term care plan for our elders, Yakima Herald
WA Lawmakers Consider Funding Long-Term Care, Public News Service