Farm Bureau Health Plans Advance; Democrats Warn Buyer Beware

Mar 7, 2018

Iowans who are getting health insurance through the individual marketplace under the Affordable Care Act would have a new option under a bill that passed  by a large margin  in  the Iowa Senate last night.   

Under the bill, the Iowa Farm Bureau would offer what are being called barebones health plans not subject to the rules of the ACA,  including covering pre-existing conditions and other  mandates.

That would be allowed because the plans are not insurance policies. 

We're trying to help those who can't find insurance. -Sen. Randy Feenstra

Lawmakers heard stories of Iowans who are not covered through their employers or the government and are struggling with high insurance premiums.

“But I think it’s important that we define what this plan will do and what it will not do because this is  not insurance,” said Sen. Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines).  “If it were the insurance commissioner would regulate it.”

McCoy was among a handful of Democrats who opposed the bill, warning consumers about limitations and uncertainty behind the proposal.

Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) defended the bill.

“I struggle with where you're going, Democrats,” Feenstra said. “All we're trying to do is help those who can’t find insurance.” 

“What we have in front of us, Sen. Feenstra, is a buyer beware policy,” responded Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City. 

We're going to be sending a soggy life-jacket to people who need our help. -Sen. Joe Bolkcom

Feenstra says premiums would be 30 to 40 percent less than for ACA plans.

Wellmark would administer the plans.   The Farm Bureau says 28,000 members would be eligible.    Anyone can join the Farm Bureau to qualify.   

Several Republicans argued the Farm Bureau plans would meet a real need.

“This is a lifesaver because health insurance on the individual market is either unattainable or unaffordable,” said Sen. Julian Garrett (R-Indianola).  “I can't overemphasize what a big deal this is for those people.”

Some called the plans a benefit program for healthy people, since it won’t cover many conditions.  And they say drawing healthy people out of the marketplace will push premiums even higher for less healthy customers.  

Backers called it a good test model from a solid organization that will help self-employed farmers and others in rural Iowa.

“If you’re talking about helping rural Iowa, this is a whale of a start,” said Sen. Tom Shipley (R-Nodaway). 

"We're going to be throwing a soggy life-jacket to  people who need our help," said Sen. Bolkcom.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 40 to 9.   A companion bill is awaiting debate in the Iowa House.