Farmers nationwide struggling with health insurance costs

Illinois Farm Bureau has determined the topic of healthcare to be an important issue for members. Earlier this year, a working group analyzed potential options that could help manage rising medical costs. The group’s recommendations will be shared with delegates at IFB's Annual Meeting in December. In the meantime, IFB will be sharing information on some of these options.

Illinois Farm Bureau isn’t alone in trying to help its members find affordable health insurance options.

State Farm Bureaus in Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and Washington now offer health insurance plans for its members.

American Farm Bureau Federation has heard from other states interested in alternatives to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as farmers continue to face rising health care costs and declining farm revenues, said R.J. Karney, AFBF director of congressional relations.

“There isn’t a silver bullet that’s going to solve it all,” Karney said.

Delegates at AFBF’s Annual Convention in January passed a resolution directing the AFBF Board of Directors to create a nationwide health insurance program that would help increase membership. Delegates also directed the board to investigate the possibility of buying health insurance across state lines.

Karney said AFBF directors in March tabled discussion of a national insurance plan and agreed to revisit the issue at a later date. At the time, Karney said, a new federal rule remained pending that would allow small employers and consumers to band together as if they were a single, large employer in an Association Health Plan (AHP). The Department of Labor (DOL) finalized the rule in June. AFBF had also heard from state Farm Bureaus who wanted to provide their own insurance plans.

“AFBF has continued its conversations with state Farm Bureaus and is keeping states apprised on the new rule and on the legal case that’s moving forward as well,” he said.

Twelve district attorneys from 11 states and the District of Columbia sued DOL over its AHP rule. Karney said the lawsuit, which remains pending, alleges AHPs have a negative impact on ACA markets by taking healthy people out of the pool and increasing costs for others.

AFBF policy supports creation of AHPs and sale of them across state lines. The national organization also recently joined the Coalition to Protect Association Health Plans.

IFB’s Board of Directors recently agreed with its working group’s recommendation to investigate the possibility of providing an AHP to its members.

Washington Farm Bureau has offered its members health insurance through an AHP since 2004.

Many state Farm Bureaus stopped offering AHPS after 2011, when the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid issued a guidance document based on the ACA that regulated AHPs by small group insurance requirements. This essentially removed the cost savings they provide.

Last year, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that called for expanded access to AHPs, among other things. Organizations must work with their state insurance commissioner to provide an AHP.

Nebraska Farm Bureau last month announced formation of an AHP through Medica. Officially marketed as the Nebraska Farm Bureau Member Health Plan, qualifying members can sign up between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1.

Iowa will soon begin offering its members non-ACA compliant health insurance plans. Like Tennessee, Iowa Farm Bureau had to receive approval from its state legislature to offer a non-ACA compliant plan.

Iowa will start taking applications Nov. 1. Applicants must be an Iowa Farm Bureau member living in the state and not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or an employer group health plan. Applicants must pass underwriting to qualify for enrollment. The plans, offered through the Wellmark Blue HMO provider network, have a $3 million maximum lifetime benefit per covered individual.