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WA Lawmakers Asked to Prep for the "Age Wave"

PHOTO: You're never too old to learn a new skill, but too many Washingtonians apparently didn't learn soon enough to save for retirement. Only one in four is able to pay for long-term care services from savings. The Legislature is being asked to explore other options for financing care. Photo credit: photoprof/FeaturePics.com.
PHOTO: You're never too old to learn a new skill, but too many Washingtonians apparently didn't learn soon enough to save for retirement. Only one in four is able to pay for long-term care services from savings. The Legislature is being asked to explore other options for financing care. Photo credit: photoprof/FeaturePics.com.
January 5, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - It could be a tough sell in a year of such competing issues as education, mental health, and transportation, but advocates for Washington seniors and people with disabilities say 2015 also should be the year that the state does some serious planning for an "age wave" of soon-to-be retirees financially unprepared for old age.

A Joint Legislative Executive Committee on Aging and Disability submitted its findings just before Christmas. Its report notes 80 percent of all long-term care services and supports are now delivered by family members, in part because most people who need them can't afford to pay for them.

Jerry Reilly, executive director of the Washington Health Care Association, says lawmakers, some of whom face these issues in their own families, will be sympathetic.

"This is not a partisan issue," Reilly says. "There's no Republican or Democratic way to grow old, or have frailty. There's a lot of good will among the legislators to get this done, but we have to give them a road map and a way to begin."

Reilly says a coalition will ask the Legislature to explore public-private partnership options, similar to unemployment insurance, that could help families pay for long-term care in the future. The alternative, he warns, is busting the state budget as the older population balloons in the next 15 years.

The coalition also wants lawmakers to allow small and medium-sized businesses to offer "portable" retirement savings accounts, to prompt more workers to plan for their future. Cathy MacCaul, advocacy director with AARP Washington, says currently only one in four Washingtonians is able to pay for long-term support services from his or her own savings.

"The cost of a nursing home is $90,000," says MacCaul. "Assisted living facility, assisted care, is $42,000. Just having a home health aide is $20,000. A majority of the people are not going to be able to pay for those types of long-term supports and services when they need it."

AARP and other coalition members say Washington has one of the best long-term care systems in the country. Its goal is to keep as many people as possible at home as they age, where care is less expensive for the state and for families. But it won't keep up with the "age wave" without some changes.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA