Health benefit plans for agricultural nonprofits considered

The Agriculture Committee heard testimony Feb. 13 on a bill intended to provide affordable health benefits to Nebraska farmers and ranchers.

Sen. Robert Dover
Sen. Robert Dover

Under LB1313, sponsored by Norfolk Sen. Robert Dover, health benefit plans that are sponsored by certain nonprofit agricultural organizations and provide benefits under a self-funded arrangement administered by a licensed third-party administrator would not be subject to insurance regulation.

The organization that sponsors the plan must have been created primarily to promote programs for the development of rural communities and the economic stability of Nebraska farmers, among several other requirements.

Dover said he introduced the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Farm Bureau to provide a “family-friendly health care alternative.” He said the fully underwritten plans would provide coverage for office visits, hospitalization, preventive care, emergency room services, maternity care, mental health care and substance abuse treatment.

“The goal of LB1313 is simple: a high-quality, affordable health care option for those who want it,” Dover said.

Before providing health benefits, an organization would be required to file a certification with the state Department of Insurance verifying that the organization meets the bill’s requirements.

The risk assumed by a plan could be reinsured by a company authorized to do business in Nebraska.

Mark McHargue testified in support of the bill on behalf of Nebraska Farm Bureau and several other agricultural organizations. Because Affordable Care Act premiums often are unaffordable for many farmers and ranchers, McHargue said, they do not purchase health insurance or rely on a spouse who works for an employer that offers those benefits.

In a 2023 survey, he said, 81% of farm and ranch members indicated that the cost of health insurance was one of their main concerns.

“There is significant need for more affordable health plans that will meet the needs of our members and, potentially, members who are not eligible for the federal health insurance subsidies,” McHargue said.

Dawn Kucera testified in support of LB1313 on behalf of the Nebraska Farm Bureau board of directors. She said the current health care insurance market discriminates against self-employed individuals and small business owners because they are not eligible for the discounted rates available under employer-sponsored plans.

Kucera said she and her husband, who operate a farm and agronomy business near Madison, pay nearly $16,000 per year for their subsidized ACA plan and $20,000 to $40,000 annually in deductibles and copays. Premiums and out-of-pocket costs for an unsubsidized ACA family plan are even higher, she said.

“These high health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs for health care make a significant dent in our bottom line and even put our farm and agronomy business on very thin ice during years of drought or low commodity prices,” Kucera said.

She said the plans offered under LB1313, which would be priced using preexisting conditions and individual medical underwriting, would cost 40% to 60% less than unsubsidized plans offered under the ACA.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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