IFB's Health Care Working Group makes final recommendation

Education, potential health plan among ideas to assist members. Watch video summary.

By Joanie Stiers

Illinois Farm Bureau’s Health Care Working Group made a final recommendation last week for the organization to provide educational health care resources as a step in giving members options to address the rising cost of health care.

The working group has outlined a four-month plan to deliver information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Marketplace subsidies and health care options to members. Meanwhile, the group supported IFB efforts to develop an Association Health Plan (AHP), a previous recommendation from the working group. IFB has engaged in discussions with potential health insurance providers to establish an AHP.

While legal challenges to new U.S. Department of Labor rules limit the plan’s eligibility to members with one or more full-time employees, the working group felt “helping some members was better than nothing at all.” IFB survey results estimate 16% of IFB’s farmer members may qualify for the AHP.

“It is a start in providing options for our members,” said Brian Duncan, IFB vice president. “The law and the regulations surrounding AHPs only allow us to do certain things.”

An AHP allows small businesses to band together by geography or industry to obtain health care coverage, similar to a plan for a single large employer. While the Trump administration loosened rules for AHPs to include self-employed individuals, a court decision earlier this year blocked the new rules. Unless that decision is successfully appealed, only IFB farmer members with at least one full-time, year-round employee may participate in the plan. That employee cannot be the owner or owner’s spouse. While 31% of IFB farmer members surveyed reported at least one W2 employee, only 16% employed at least one full time.

IFB members want more health care options, a position backed by a strong response to the emailed survey this spring. Premiums for individual health insurance plans have more than doubled since 2013, the year before ACA took effect, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The costs have strained Illinois farm families, prompting a health care resolution at IFB’s Annual Meeting in 2017 and the subsequent formation of the IFB Health Care Working Group. The group held its final meeting in Bloomington last week. The newly formed Health Care Committee of the IFB Board now takes over, and the IFB Board ultimately will decide whether to form an AHP after a review of market potential and costs to establish the plan.

Meanwhile, health insurance education for members continues July 31 during a session at the IFB Farm Income & Innovations Conference. Various formats of educational outreach progress every month thereafter until open enrollment starts in November.

In its final report, the working group recommended adding wellness education to outreach efforts, following a meeting emphasis on healthy living to reduce medical costs.

“The things you can do personally to decrease the cost of your health care – it’s not just going to have an examination, but the common sense things: not smoking, eating well, exercising, immunizations and end-of-life care,” said Scott Hoeft, a McLean County farmer and working group member. “You just can’t put those out there enough for people to be encouraged.”

Related: Health care subidies available on the exchange.

Related: Court blocks Association Health Plan rule.

Related: More IFB health care resources here.