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Texas Farm Bureau could sell health coverage to its members exempt from insurance laws if bill passes

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 6:37 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The Waco-based Texas Farm Bureau could soon sell health plans to its members and their families that would not be subject to state and federal insurance laws under a bill that cleared the Texas House last week.

Supporters of the bill say it would increase access to healthcare in rural and underserved communities where some people face high healthcare costs.

“It’s built for those folks who are self-employed farmers and ranchers, folks who live in rural areas and folks that find it difficult to find an affordable healthcare option in their area,” Si Cook, the executive director of the Texas Farm Bureau, told KWTX.

However, opponents worry that, because the plans would not be subject to insurance laws, they would do away with important consumer protections.

“Right now, today, the Farm Bureau could go offer a health plan; they could go be a health insurance company, and that would be wonderful for the competition,” Blake Hutson, the associate state director of AARP Texas, told KWTX.

“But that’s not what they’re trying to do here; they want a carve out from all the consumer protections that we require of health insurers in Texas,” he said.

He said he is most concerned that the bill would skirt existing protections for consumers with preexisting conditions.

“Letting a big health plan come in and say, ‘Hey, if you’re sick, we won’t cover your chemotherapy for two months,’ like they told us they did in Tennessee or, ‘We won’t offer you coverage at all, or we’ll charge you a ton more,’” he said.

Under the bill, the bureau could not require consumers to wait more than six months for the treatment of a preexisting condition otherwise covered in the plan.

But Cook maintained that the plans “would not exclude folks.”

Other opponents of the bill worry about the effect on the larger market.

“Farm bureau plans raise premiums for everyone else in the individual market because they cherry pick the healthier and leave sicker populations in the regulated market,” said Jason Baxter, the director of government relations at the Texas Association of Health Plans, at a committee hearing for the Senate version of the bill.

Cook said that is not the case.

“Tennessee Farm Bureau has been doing this type of plan for the last 30 years, and all the insurance markets — the ACA markets in their state — have actually become more robust,” he said.

Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee have already enacted similar health coverage plans with their farm bureaus.

The bill cleared the House last week, 106-39.

It now sits with the Senate.

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