The issue: Healthcare costs for ag producers have priced them out of the market
Local impact: A new law has allowed for the formation of healthcare cooperatives to help reduce those costs.
In 2016, a number of insurance carriers in Minnesota opted to leave the individual market, which left many people, especially those in more rural areas of the state, without health plan options. Among those being hit the hardest were those involved in production agriculture.
The next January, when the Minnesota legislature met, the need was identified, and as a result a new healthcare option was created in Minnesota. Known as the healthcare cooperative, this program allows for the creation of a cooperative that provides healthcare insurance coverage to individuals in production agriculture with the cooperative acting as the insurer.
“This law allows ag cooperatives the chance to provide insurance to their members,” said District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, who was instrumental in getting the cooperative law approved during the 2017 session. “This offers another good option for people in rural Minnesota.”
Dahms said there was strong support for the legislation, adding he believes this will be a great program for those who are eligible to use it. There are currently two healthcare cooperatives that have been developed in the state, including one that has close connections to southern Minnesota.
Jeff Nielsen, who serves as president ant CEO of United Farmers Cooperative in Winthrop, has been actively working for this option to be available to ag producers. He talked at length about the new option this past August during a healthcare forum at Farmfest.
The efforts of Nielsen working in conjunction with others who have been developing this idea since 2004 resulted in the establishment of what is known as 40 Square Cooperative Solutions.
“Work on this idea has been going on for a number of years,” said Char Vrieze, 40 Square Cooperative Solutions executive director. “It has been such a journey.”
Vrieze said the concept behind it all was to help those in ag production by giving them more options for healthcare insurance and to offer it in a way that would not result in significant costs to them. Enrollment for the first year of the cooperative was held this past November and December, and, according to Vrieze, the result demonstrated the need for the cooperative option.
Vrieze said there are in the area of 400 members who have enrolled, and through that enrollment there are more than 1,000 lives who are now covered by the healthcare cooperative insurance.
“We have six different coverage options that we offer,” Vrieze explained, adding they range from a deductible of $1,500 all the way up to $6,500. “This is major medical insurance coverage.”
According to Vrieze to be eligible for membership in the 40 Square Solutions healthcare cooperative, one must be considered an employer with at least one common-law employee. The employer must actively be working in production agriculture in Minnesota, or they must provide direct services to production agriculture in the state.
Each member must also purchase $100 in voting stock, as well as $1,000 in common stock, added Vrieze. Enrollment is at the employer level, which means any employees are not required to become members of the cooperative. Families of those enrolled are also eligible for insurance coverage.
Those who enroll are required to remain in the cooperative for three consecutive years. While open enrollment has closed for 2018, Vrieze said it will occur once each year which will allow those currently enrolled the option to make changes, as well as for new people to sign up to be part of the cooperative. The date for open enrollment for 2019 will be determined by the board of directors, said Vrieze.
Membership is open to anyone in Minnesota who meets eligibility requirements, said Vrieze, adding they have a good representation among its members statewide.
“We have members from the Red River Valley all the way through central and southern Minnesota down to Iowa,” said Vrieze.
Vrieze said the cooperative itself acts as the insurer and will pay the claims, will determine the cost of the deductibles and will decide which features are offered.
When he spoke about the new law at Farmfest this past summer, Nielsen expressed his thanks to legislators like Sen. Gary Dahms who saw the need and did what was right for production agriculture in Minnesota.
To learn more about 40 Square Cooperative Solutions, visit its Web site at 40square.coop, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (844) 205-9579.