For farm families nationwide, health insurance coverage and health care costs have long been one of their largest annual expenses – and one of the biggest threats to staying in business, as farm income drops and insurance costs skyrocket. Diving deeper, a survey of Kansas Farm Bureau farmer members showed that 8% of them purchased their own insurance, which came with annual premiums as high as $30,000-$40,000 for extremely high deductible plans with very low coverage. Another 8% of members went uninsured because they couldn’t afford coverage.
To help ease farmers’ and ranchers’ struggles with insurance coverage, Kansas Farm Bureau began looking at how they could provide higher levels of health care coverage at a lower cost, explained Terry Holdren, KFB CEO/general counsel. The organization also wanted to make sure it was meeting members’ basic needs for regular doctor visits and other types of routine care.
Ensuring that members could affordably access care beyond state lines was also important. To help control their costs, many insurance providers limit their networks to in-state providers, which resulted in astronomical costs for farmers who were sent to specialists in neighboring states.
“Farming and ranching doesn’t stop at the state line and neither do the commerce patterns of farmers and ranchers,” Holdren said.
The first step was a state legislative effort launched in 2019 to gain authority to offer health care member benefits that are defined as “not insurance” and to allow consideration of health conditions through an underwriting process.
A third-party study indicated premiums for a non-Affordable Care Act plan, which KFB was seeking to offer, thus requiring legislative approval, would be about 30% below an ACA-level premium. This substantial savings was a key point in gaining support.
Kansas Farm Bureau members were also a vital part of the advocacy effort, with several of them sharing testimonials with policymakers about not being able to afford coverage or having a spouse work off-farm just for the insurance benefits.
When their bill was enacted in April 2019, Kansas Farm Bureau began assembling plans in conjunction with its partners at FB Health Plans in Tennessee. There are four coverage options through Kansas Farm Bureau Health Plans: one for individuals and families under 65 years of age; a short-term plan for people who are in between jobs or need coverage for 60-90 days for other reasons; a dental/vision bundle policyholders can use to supplement any type of coverage; and a Medicare supplement plan.
After a year and a half in business, KFBHP protects more than 10,000 Kansans. With an average monthly premium of $383, the plans save most families between $1,000 and $1,500 per month. And the plans brought in an additional 1,800 members in the first year.
For Kansas Farm Bureau member Erica Schlender, joining the plan allowed her to stop teaching and help her parents full time on the family farm in Harvey County. Before she had access to KFBHP, she would substitute teach so she could maintain at least partial health coverage.
“This gives me the chance to do what I want to do for a living,” she said. “I’m not tied down to a job because of the health insurance.”
And the coverage is even better.
“Even when I was teaching, the coverage wasn’t this good,” Schlender said. “With this, I have dental and vision and they’re covering my contacts.”
Kansas Farm Bureau Health Plans garnered Kansas Farm Bureau a 2021 New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The award, which honors state Farm Bureaus with the most innovative new programs, is presented annually at the AFBF Annual Convention.