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Kansas Farm Bureau on Health Benefit bill
Bill may provide needed options for farm families seeking insurance through off-farm employment

Kansas Farm Bureau regularly surveys members to determine what issues are their biggest challenges, and for the past three years, health-care coverage has been far and away the biggest concern, KFB CEO Terry Holdren said Friday afternoon in an online press conference with members of the Kansas Press Association. The talk was the first offered by the KPA in its News Now Pressers member service. Holdren and Ryan Flickner, a lobbyist for the organization, answered questions from reporters around the state on KFB’s controversial proposal for legislation to offer a health-care benefit to its members that is exempt from normal health insurance rules.

Earlier this year, the KFB proposal was submitted to the Senate Insurance committee introduced and referred to the Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance. Hearings were held, at which several KFB members testified about how the cost of health insurance weighed heavily on them, forcing many family farm members to turn to off-farm employment in order to qualify for an employer health plan just to stay afloat. 

“Younger producers who returned to the farm out of opportunity or need were realizing the cost of their family’s health-care was making the transition prohibitive,” Flickner said. In one survey, 65 percent of the farmers questioned identified health costs as their biggest challenge. 

Eventually, the bill was voted on by the Senate and passed, and was received and introduced to the House in late February, where it was referred to the Committee on Insurance. Hearings were held on March 5 and now the bill is included with other legislation as Senate Substitute for House Bill 43. Flickner is hopeful that signs indicate it will pass later in the session. 

“Health care plans” of this type are not technically insurance plans, which means the Department of Insurance would not oversee them.

Holdren said if passed, KFB anticipates signing between 1,000 and 2,500 members to its health-care benefit the first year. The organization has determined the potential market is 42,000 lives that could be covered. These would be members or potential members who are not currently covered through an employer plan or insurance offered through the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid or other state child health plans. 

The Kansas plan, Holdren said, is modeled after plans currently being implemented by Tennessee Farm Bureau and Iowa Farm Bureau. 

Currently, various other associations in the state offer a similar benefit to their members. Architects, dentists, banks, truckers, physicians, farmers’ cooperative or any other qualified trade, merchant, retail or professional association or business league in Kansas which complies with KSA40-2222.

But, the KFB plan would be based on individual contracts, rather than a group plan. If approved, members will be evaluated and it is unclear at this time what preexisting conditions may make a person ineligible for full coverage. Riders and exclusions may be implemented. 

Holdren said once a member is offered coverage and it is accepted,  he enters into a contractual relationship and will be covered if he comes down with a condition in the future. 

“Once you’re ours, you’re ours,” he said. Provided the member pays dues on an annual basis, and premiums are paid, Flickner quickly added. 

The plans will be age-banded or pool-banded, and this banding will determine rates. At the same time, it was noted that there would be no up-charge for being a certain age, particularly for women of childbearing age. 

Still, some pre-existing conditions may lead to denial, but it depends, Holdren said. He offered a personal anecdote. While visiting with Tennessee Farm Bureau about how their plan works, he asked how a family member’s diagnosis and treatment for thyroid cancer would affect eligibility. The family member will require a synthetic thyroid medication for life now. The plan, he said, looks back over the individual’s health for the previous 10 years. It has been 12 years since the surgery, with no subsequent health concerns. The family members could, and likely would, qualify for coverage, he said. 

“Not everyone will qualify, and we will have to say no to some people,” he said. Still, he anticipates it will provide a needed option for many KFB members, in some cases allowing some farm families to devote more of their human resources to their farm and ranch operations. 

Editor’s note: News Now is made possible through a new program offered through the Kansas Press Association to member newspapers. News Now Pressers utilize GoToMeeting technology, and were started as a way for members to hear from newsmakers and funnel questions directly to businesses and policy makers without having to travel out of their coverage area.