Alternative health coverage being considered in Kansas

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- Public health advocates are fighting against a plan to allow an unregulated alternative to health insurance in the Sunflower State.

Opponents fear the option will drive up insurance coverage costs.

The Kansas Farm Bureau wants to offer its members what it calls a healthcare benefit. It's targeted at self employed rural folks who don't qualify for federal subsidies and can't afford traditional insurance.

Farmers have testified that since the Affordable Care Act became law, their health coverage has become anything but affordable, with premiums skyrocketing in some cases by more than 200 percent.

The Farm Bureau plan would provide lower cost coverage by paying for basic needs like hospital stays, prescriptions and maternity care.

"This plan will not cost the taxpayers of Kansas any money in any way," Sen. Rob Olson said, a Republican from Olathe who supports the measure. "This is just allowing Farm Bureau to develop their plan. This will only benefit people in Kansas and consumers. Rural hospitals are struggling. This will give them more people with good insurance to pay the bill. That’s important."

The coverage would not be regulated by either the Affordable Care Act or the Kansas Insurance Commission. It also allows Kansas Farm Bureau to sidestep insurance requirements to cover preexisting conditions.

And that's what opponents don't like.

"Once they have been diagnosed we think they would get them through that first year. But very often cancer treatment takes more than a year," Peggy Johnson said, a breast cancer survivor who works for the Susan Komen Foundation. "Can they? Will they deny them coverage after the first year? They could not get into coverage again because they have a preexisting disease."

Opponents believe the benefit would result in an increased number of uninsured and underinsured Kansans.

Insurance companies also claim it would be unfair competition, because Farm Bureau can cherry pick the healthiest customers, driving up premiums for everyone else.

But supporters say too many Kansans already are leaving the state because of high health insurance costs. Other states with similar Farm Bureau benefits, including Tennessee, Iowa and Nebraska, claim the increased competition has actually helped reduce costs.

Kansas Farm Bureau estimates about 40,000 members would sign up for their benefit. This has already passed the state Senate and is being considered by the House.

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