April 20, 2024

Farmer health bill advances: Benefit plan gets approval in House and Senate

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers who don’t have access to employer-sponsored health coverage and must purchase their own may soon have a new option.

The state General Assembly, which concluded it non-budget-year short session on March 12, passed legislation that if signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb will enable Indiana Farm Bureau to provide an underwritten health benefit plan to its members.

“This is a good day for Indiana agriculture,” said INFB President Randy Kron.

The bill, Senate Enrolled Act 184, garnered unanimous 49-0 approval in the Senate on Feb. 4, followed by similarly positive 94-2 support in the House on March 3; and then, as amendments and changes were considered, a final vote of 47-1 back in the Senate on March 11.

But Kron stressed people should not judge the process by those lopsided numbers and think this has been easy.

It has taken a lot of work by INFB staff and members who shared their personal stories with lawmakers in hallways and committee hearings at the Statehouse, as well as in their local communities across Indiana.

“INFB’s grassroots was noticed by many at the Statehouse and made a huge difference,” Kron said.

The Problem

Farmers across the Midwest are facing tight profit margins and rising healthcare costs. And that means some hold off getting medical treatment or forgo health insurance altogether.

“Anything we can do to help them and bring some relief is important,” Kron said.

That is why state Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, supported the legislation.

“The high cost of health care is driving some farmers to continue working without benefits or to leave the industry in search of other opportunities with coverage. Access to quality affordable health care is critical in a physically demanding job like farming,” Cherry said.

“Working in the agriculture industry for many years, I know how physically demanding the job can be and how crucial it is to have healthcare benefits for your family.”

The Solution

Known legally as “health benefit plans,” the new policies would vary in cost and coverage options — allowing members to choose the best option for their family, Kron said.

Even though they offer members similar coverage to health insurance, the policies don’t have to follow the rules that apply to health insurance.

The plans are expected to have lower premiums than standard health insurance policies and cover maternity services, mental health care, addiction treatment and prescription drugs.

They will require a health evaluation — and that might cause some to be denied, Kron noted.

If signed by the governor, SEA 184 will become law and go into effect July 1.

The next step is for INFB to create the products, most likely partnering with Tennessee Farm Bureau, which has offered a health benefit plan to its members for over 25 years.

To get an idea of the plans that might be offered, Kron suggested perusing www.fbhealthplans.com.

“We have established an ambitious goal of the fourth quarter of 2020 for benefits being available,” he said, adding that the policies would take effect Jan. 1.

Looking back at Indiana Farm Bureau’s esteemed history of helping farmers, including its ballyhooed Stop Taxing Our Property campaign, Kron said this is one of the most important legislative accomplishments in the organization’s 100 years.

“This innovative solution to making health coverage more affordable will help a significant number of farmers, ag professionals and others in rural communities,” he said.

“We appreciate the Indiana General Assembly’s support and recognition of a solution that will have a positive impact for many Hoosiers in rural Indiana.”