Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is changing its health insurance offerings to escape its existing plans’ high costs and to comply with new health care regulations.
After mailing a letter on Jan. 27 giving a detailed explanation and instructions about the changes, Farm Bureau has received more than 19,000 calls about the transition, said Mark O’Neill, Farm Bureau’s media relations director.
“Overall, it’s been a positive experience,” O’Neill said.
All current Farm Bureau health plans will be discontinued as of Mar. 31 to ensure that the offered plans comply with the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law known as Obamacare.
There will be no automatic enrollment, so members who want insurance through Farm Bureau must call to re-enroll before Mar. 8, O’Neill said.
Some state Farm Bureaus, like those in Indiana and Tennessee, actually own health insurance companies. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is not a health insurance company and does not own such a company, but it works with insurers to offer insurance as a benefit to its members, O’Neill said.
The arrangement allows farmers, many of whom are self-employed, to take advantage of group rates.
Capital BlueCross had been the organization’s preferred insurance provider, but Farm Bureau wanted to find more affordable plans than the ones BlueCross was offering, O’Neill said.
After researching and comparing rates, Farm Bureau has chosen Highmark Blue Shield as its new recommended provider.
Farm Bureau will offer 11 Highmark plans, which in most cases should be about 30 to 40 percent cheaper than the BlueCross plans, O’Neill said.
According to a copy of the Jan. 27 member letter obtained from a Farm Bureau member, “In the best interest of its members, PFB Health Services has decided to present you with Highmark Blue Shield options, as they provide comparable plans and provider networks at much better premium rates.”
Farm Bureau can still help members get coverage from other companies, including BlueCross, but “we believe it’s going to cost them more money,” O’Neill said.
Even without the provider switch, Farm Bureau would have needed to update its plans.
“The Affordable Care Act has caused many changes (for Farm Bureau), like with everyone,” O’Neill said.
Group plans such as the kind Farm Bureau had been offering are no longer allowed, according to the member letter. “PFB will no longer be permitted to offer a custom/unique Group Association Plan,” the letter states.
“The law changes required us to make certain changes in terms,” O’Neill said. “Technically, our old way is gone.”
For example, all plans are now classified in “metallic” tiers: Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze, he said.
Deductibles and premiums vary by plan, place of residence, age and tobacco use. Under the law, people with existing conditions may no longer be denied coverage, O’Neill said.
“The health care act basically has changed the way health care premiums are calculated,” he said.
However, the insurance changes will not force any Farm Bureau members to participate in the federal health care exchanges, and the insurance changes will not affect the staffing of Farm Bureau’s office.
Under the Affordable Care Act, citizens living in the United States are required to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Some people who reject insurance for religious reasons, such as Amish and Mennonite people, can seek exemptions from the law.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau had originally wanted its members to enroll by Feb. 25, but that date has been moved to March 8 because of the high interest, O’Neill said.
The deadline cannot be pushed any later because Farm Bureau employees must key in all the data from the submitted forms by Mar. 15, O’Neill said.
He encouraged members to call Farm Bureau’s Health Services team to learn about their options.
“We want to help them get as much coverage that they want and need at the best price possible,” he said.
Farm Bureau members who want more information or wish to enroll in insurance should call Farm Bureau Health Services at 800-522-2375.