May 20, 2024

Affordable health care clears hurdle: ‘There’s a real need out there’

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Legislation that would let Indiana Farm Bureau offer an affordable health care alternative took another step forward, but will still require farmers’ vocal support to cross the finish line.

Senate Bill 184 would allow INFB to offer a non-insurance, high quality and more affordable health benefit plan to its members — specifically those who are sole proprietors with fewer than two employees.

After advancing 8-0 from the Senate Committee on Insurance and Financial Institutions, it passed the full Senate with a 49-0 vote on Feb. 4 and has been referred to the House, where it will now be considered.

INFB President Randy Kron told AgriNews at the Young Farmers and Ag Professionals Conference in Noblesville that he was pleasantly surprised by the senators’ unanimous approval.

“I give a lot of credit to our members, the grassroots showing up at the hearing. We had the room full of people, 50 people probably fit in there, and there were close to that many out in the hallway. So, farmers have showed up,” he said.

“I know at the time there were a few votes that were borderline, and I think having people there telling their stories and having a show of the need helped push a few of them over to the yes side.”

But this is only halftime, Kron stressed.

A lot can happen — and still must happen — between now and the end of the legislative session, which will conclude March 11, he said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic. We’ve had a lot of support. But it’s still a long ways to go,” Kron said.

“We had a great grassroots effort in the Senate side. It’s going to take that and more on the House side,” he said. “It was impressive when the chairman of the insurance committee says, ‘Well, how many are here for Farm Bureau and this bill?’ Everybody’s hand went up in the room. I guarantee that has an impact when you do that. And then he’s like, ‘Well, there’s a bunch out in the hallway there, too.’ It will take that. They’ve got to see the need to be able to make this happen.”

“Call your state representative,” he said. “Have communications with them. You don’t have to get down in the details. Just say there’s a need, we need some more affordable choices.”

Big Demand

Farmers are excited for INFB’s health benefit plan and have repeatedly asked Kron how soon it will be available.

“I’m surprised by how many have told me they don’t even have insurance. There’s a real need out there,” he said.

There are other options available, but they require two or more employees. A family farm doesn’t necessarily meet that requirement.

“The farm community is a little unique in the way we operate,” Kron explained. “You think, well, these farms, they’ve got two or more employees, but I was talking to an individual the other day, it was the dad, himself and the grandson. You look at it and you think, oh, they’re a business, there are three employees. He told me, ‘Oh, no, we all work together, but we operate separately. We each have our own ground. We share equipment.’

“From appearance, you would look at it and think, oh, that’s a family, they’ve got three employees. But all three are sole proprietors, and that’s what we’re finding in agriculture. There’s a lot of that out there.”

Speaking Up

INFB is not replacing or taking away anything that is available now. It is just trying to bring another option to the market that is more affordable, Kron said.

“In my four years as serving as president, seldom do I go to a meeting that somebody and the conversation on the side doesn’t turn to health costs or health insurance and how it’s affecting their farms,” he said, citing a woman who told him at the Statehouse that the monthly health insurance premiums for her and her husband and 4-month-old child cost more than her mortgage.

“Generally, the conversation is ‘I can’t afford it’ or ‘there are problems, it’s affecting our bottom line.’ Somewhere in there it turns to, ‘Can’t Farm Bureau do something to help us?’ We’re going to try.”

But INFB leadership cannot do it alone.

“The grassroots, our members, are going to be key to this passing. I can’t stress that enough,” Kron said.

“What worries me is the vote in the Senate looks really good. So, you can think, oh, it’s done. It’s not. It’s not going to be an easy lift. Don’t take your foot off the gas now, please.”

Survey Says…

In an Indiana Farm Bureau Poll/Bellwether Research survey, Hoosier farmers said healthcare costs is the top concern they face. Many Farm Bureau members go without coverage.

• 78% of respondents said the cost of health care is important to the profitability of their business.

• 43% under the age of 65 said they have chosen to not get treatment for a health condition because of the cost.