Of all the issues affecting Iowans on a day-to-day basis, access to affordable health insurance is the kitchen-table issue of our time. It seems at every event I hear the difficult stories of farm families, small business owners, or workers whose employer does not offer health insurance telling me of the $15,000 to $25,000 premiums or $6,000 deductibles they face. Some tell me they can’t find a policy at any price.
The (Un)Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, has wreaked havoc on our health care and health insurance industries. Policies disappeared, carriers pulled out of Iowa, and government meddling has caused policies to be much more expensive and yet, provide less coverage.
Under the Obama administration, the law and rules of Obamacare were so tight that states could not find a way to help their citizens. Under President Trump, the situation has changed. An executive order signed by President Trump directed the heads of all executive departments and agencies to exercise all authority and discretion to lessen the fiscal burden on states, providers, insurers, patients, and purchasers of health insurance caused by the Affordable Care Act; to provide greater flexibility to states and cooperate with them in implementing healthcare programs and initiatives; and to require agencies to revise their rules and regulations to carry out these enumerated objectives.
Into this void steps State Senator Waylon Brown (R-St. Ansgar). A humble, unassuming man, content to raise his family and build his construction business, Senator Brown identified this problem. During the height of his busy season, Waylon took days off to travel to Des Moines to work on a solution. This solution became Senate File 2349.
SF 2349 addresses the problem by allowing the creation of Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWA). A MEWA is essentially a health insurance group that can be created among more than one employer in order to get enough employees to justify a group. The bill removes time restrictions on creating a MEWA. The bill requires the Commissioner of Insurance to form rules to allow for the creation of association health plans that are consistent with U.S. Department of Labor regulations. The proposed U.S. Department of Labor rules will change definitions that would allow sole proprietorships to be considered “employers” and that employers must only live in the state and not have to be in the same industry in order to qualify for the group.
The goal is for competition and innovation to be returned to the marketplace. For insurance products that cost less yet offer better coverage than the highly regulated ACA products. This bill is meant to help families, farmers, and small businesses handle the changing health insurance market. We waited for Congress to act, yet those knuckleheads can’t get it done. Surprise, surprise, surprise!
A similar bill has been passed out of the Senate last week. SF 2329 will allow Farm Bureau to offer health benefit plans, which will not be considered insurance under state or federal law. This removes these plans out of the ACA requirements. The bill will require that farm bureau self-fund these plans and have a third party administrator administer the plans.
Iowa tried the stopgap measure to fix this problem, but it ultimately did not get implemented. There are Iowans who are suffering because of the cost of health insurance under the ACA. This is an option for those Iowans who should not have to be paying up to $40,000 a year for health insurance. Additionally, independent agents will be able to sell these policies.
The failure of Obamacare has hurt many Americans, but the election of President Trump has created an opportunity for states to protect their citizens, and Senate Republicans are united in getting this done.