Washington state’s first-of-a-kind, public long-term care insurance program survived its first legal challenge this week, as federal Judge Thomas S. Zilly dismissed a lawsuit, ruling that he lacked jurisdiction.
A group of workers who opposed the WA Cares Fund program filed a lawsuit in November, petitioning the Western District of Washington seeking to stop the initiative. Zilly said Monday that taxpayers can still challenge the law through the state’s administrative and judicial systems, but it is not a federal matter, according to court records.
Evergreen State lawmakers passed the program in 2019. The state was supposed to begin collecting the payroll tax that funds it in January, with benefits to be available beginning in January 2025. That plan, however, was delayed in January so that legislators could address concerns and make adjustments to the law. The current schedule calls for payroll deductions to start in July 2023 and benefits to be available in July 2026.
The LTC insurance program requires employees to pay a premium of 0.58% of their paychecks; they can use the resulting funds to help pay for nursing care and other long-term services and supports.
The judge also stated that he lacked jurisdiction under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which was a central claim in the lawsuit; the state of Washington is not an employer with regard to the long-term care insurance program, Zilly added.
“Because WA Cares is not ‘established or maintained’ by an employer and/or employee organization, it is not an ‘employee benefit plan’ and it is not governed by ERISA,” he wrote. “Thus, unlike when a state acts in its capacity as an employer in offering health and/or pension plans that extend or accrue benefits only while individuals are employed by the state, the state of Washington enacted WA Cares in its role as sovereign. Contrary to plaintiffs’ assertion, ERISA does not provide the Court with jurisdiction in this matter.”