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Iowa Farm Bureau Unveils Health Plans, Raising Questions About Consumer Protections

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Jennifer Morrow

The Iowa Farm Bureau released some information Wednesday about new health plans that are meant to be a cheaper alternative to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

But the Farm Bureau plans, offered in partnership with Wellmark, don’t have to follow federal health insurance laws, which raises questions about consumer protections.

The Iowa Farm Bureau said in a news release that the plans “will provide comprehensive coverage” and are similar to those available through the ACA. But people who apply for these plans will have to answer extensive questions about their health history.

Sarah Lueck is a health policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and an Iowa native.

“It’s certainly taking people back to a time when their health status and preexisting conditions determined whether they could get coverage and how much it would cost, which is something that’s a blast from the past and doesn’t exist anymore in the individual market after the Affordable Care Act,” Lueck said.

These health plans are for Iowa Farm Bureau members who don’t get insurance through an employer, Medicare or Medicaid. No information has been provided about how much the plans might cost, or what other factors will determine eligibility and cost differences.

But the plans may be attractive to people who are paying expensive insurance premiums through the ACA.

“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,” said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Hill in a news release.

Another significant difference is the Farm Bureau plans have a $3 million lifetime coverage limit.

“It means that if you buy one of these plans and you got a really significant health issue, probably one that lasted over multiple years, and you racked up that much in costs, they would just stop paying for you. Period,” Lueck said. “Annual and lifetime limits are supposed to be a thing of the past, and here we go bringing them back.”

Iowa Farm Bureau members can start applying for the plans November 1, the same day enrollment opens for the Affordable Care Act.

Lueck said there is no deadline for signing up for a Farm Bureau plan, but Iowans only have six weeks to consider and enroll in ACA-compliant health insurance.

“What they should do is look at the ACA marketplace when enrollment opens Nov. 1 and look and see what they might get that way,” Lueck said.

An Iowa Insurance Division spokesman recommends contacting a licensed insurance agent to review options.

An Iowa Farm Bureau representative could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Many questions remain about how these plans will work.

Patti Naylor, who farms near Churdan, said she pays $1,252 per month for insurance through the ACA. But she said she has concerns about the Iowa Farm Bureau health plans.

“If they discriminate against age, that would be a real concern for farmers,” Naylor said.

Naylor said the Iowa Farm Bureau should use its influence to support the ACA or promote more equitable insurance for everyone.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter