Iowa Farm Bureau unveils health care plans
Officials with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation announced plans Wednesday to begin taking applications next month from members who want to enroll in a health benefit plan option — one not subject to federal regulation or state oversight — because they don’t have access to employer-sponsored health insurance and no longer can afford independent insurance coverage.
According to the company, the Farm Bureau Health Plan will be administered by Wellmark Administrators Inc., which includes all hospitals and 97 percent of the physicians in Iowa. The Farm Bureau Health Plan will offer three different plan designs, including two traditional plans with copays, coinsurance and deductibles, while the third plan is a high-deductible health plan that offers members the opportunity to fund a Health Savings Account. No rate information was included in the initial announcement, which company spokeswoman Laurie Johns said would vary based on individual needs via coverage plans sold through authorized agents.
All three plans will provide comprehensive coverage including maternity, mental health and substance abuse, prescription drugs and no-cost preventive benefits to members — although there are some exclusions. To be eligible, prospective clients seeking coverage when the application period begins Nov. 1 must be an Iowa Farm Bureau member living in the state and not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or a health plan through their employer.
The health benefit plan concept was made possible through legislation passed last session by the GOP-led Iowa Legislature and signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, enabling the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to provide an underwritten health benefit plan to its members. Farm Bureau Health Benefit Plan LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, will provide the plans.
Senate File 2349 — which sponsors say was in response to the “collapse” of the Affordable Care Act exchange market in Iowa — was designed to provide an alternative by allowing health benefit plans created by multiple employers or the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to offer access to affordable health care for up to 26,000 uninsured Iowans.
Backers called the approach a “test model” for thousands of Iowans facing skyrocketing individual health premiums that don’t qualify for ACA subsidies, but critics worried the sale of less-regulated health care plans might create a false hope for Iowans who sign up for the benefits only to find out the plan will not cover many of the major health problems addressed by conventional insurance.
Farm Bureau officials believe their health plan will appeal to Iowans who don’t qualify for tax credits or subsidies under the ACA. For those individuals, the company said in a news release it expects rates generally will be lower than comparable ACA plans.
The plan designs will look similar to current ACA compliant plans in the market, with three primary exceptions, according to the Farm Bureau. Applicants must pass underwriting to qualify for enrollment and, because they are underwritten, the plans will be available for purchase throughout the year rather than only during specific enrollment periods. Also, the plans will have a $3 million lifetime benefit maximum per covered individual.
“According to our membership survey, health care coverage is the number one concern facing our members,” said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Hill. “Although this may not be a solution for all, the Farm Bureau Health Plan may be an option for thousands who need an affordable plan that provides them comprehensive, renewable health coverage.”
At the time of the bill signing last April, Hill said the legislation would not diminish or impact Iowans receiving ACA-subsidized coverage, but it would provide an opportunity to create coverage for Iowans who don’t qualify for the ACA subsidy or have been forced out of the market by exorbitant premiums.
The plans will not comply with federal Affordable Care Act rules and will not be under the regulation of the Iowa Insurance Commissioner.