In a commentary before the Christmas holiday, Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins advocated for legislation in 2024 that would allow the Farm Bureau to sell health plans that are “like traditional insurance…” He describes those plans as having a “few key differences…” that allow them to have lower premiums than unsubsidized marketplace plans. It is these, “key differences,” and we’d argue there are more than a “few”, that cause me to write to share the concerns of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and more than a dozen of our patient partners.
One of the “key differences” that he is talking about is that these “plans” can tell farmers and family members with pre-existing health conditions that they won’t cover them. So, for example, if a farmer is diagnosed with colon cancer in the first six months of coverage, they can point to the unexplained stomach issues they had before they bought the plan, and drop coverage, or not cover their cancer treatment. This is called, “medical underwriting,” and we’ve seen time and again how bad it is for cancer patients, who often need expensive treatments quickly. Real health insurance can’t do this now.
Another “key difference”, the legislation specifically says that these “health plans” are not legally “insurance.” Why does that matter? Normally, when someone buys health insurance, the person that buys it can be confident that the insurance company follows certain laws. So, if the insurance company doesn’t cover drugs your doctor says you need, or is taking months to authorize treatment, you can appeal, or if you have a complaint, you can call the state Department of Commerce & Insurance, and they can investigate. In this case, these “health plans” leave farmers and their families on their own with little to no legal options when they have issues with the coverage.
There are several other “key differences” including critical patient protections that ACS CAN and its partners fought for in the past but that would no longer apply to these plans. This includes protections not only for individuals diagnosed with cancer but for mental health care coverage, maternity coverage, autism, and the list goes on.
As the granddaughter of a farmer, who is proud that we’ve been able to keep the farm in the family, I’ve seen family members and friends deal with the financial burdens and tough decisions involved in an ever-changing agriculture market. I’ve also seen unexpected illnesses like cancer upend families.
When that happens, they need health insurance, not look-alike “health plans” that can legally fail them when they most need it.
Missouri Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network