Nebraska on Wednesday became the first state Farm Bureau to step into the health insurance arena. Existing Nebraska Farm Bureau members who qualify can sign up starting Oct. 1 for policies that project a 25% savings over the individual market for farm families.
“I traveled around the state of Nebraska over the past several years and particularly this summer doing listening sessions all across the state,” Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said at a press conference announcing the plan. “One of the things that we heard consistently from our farm and ranch members was the need for health care, how many families are struggling to provide health care for their families and how many families have had to have one spouse or the other go to work, find a second job so they can either afford to pay for health insurance or they can get health insurance through their found employment.”
The plan will be administered by Medica, a non-profit health insurance company based in Minnesota which is currently the only company offering individual plans in the state compliant with the Affordable Care Act.
To qualify, applicants must have been a Nebraska Farm Bureau member as of July 1, 2018 and must generate at least half of their income from farming or agribusiness. To qualify for 2020 enrollment, applicants must become Farm Bureau members by July 1, 2019. Savings for agribusiness members are projected at 5%.
According to the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), 70% of rural counties have only a single option for health insurance in the individual marketplace, resulting in a 37% average difference in premiums between small town rural vs. metropolitan. NRHA notes the availability of individual plans is continuing to shrink in 2018.
The new offering from the Nebraska Farm Bureau may not only help farm families afford health care, but also opens a new door for attracting farm workers.
“Anybody that hires people knows the first question when you hire an employee is ‘what do you have for healthcare?’ and my bucket’s been empty up to this point, I've had no options,” said Tom Schwarz, a Bertrand, Neb. Farmer and president of a consortium that will oversee the plan. “It's not ‘How much are you going to pay me? Can I get health care? Can I get medical for my family?’ … I think we finally have an answer to that, and that's exciting.”
A Medica representative noted the plan will cover pre-existing conditions. There will be three options at the outset, a standard copay plan with a smaller deductible, a higher deductible plan designed to be paired with a health savings account and a lower premium co-insurance plan with higher out of pocket costs. Open enrollment will run Oct. 1 through Dec. 1, 2018.