How the Farm Bill Could Erode Part of the Affordable Care Act

Some Republican lawmakers continue to try to work around the federal health law’s requirements. That strategy can crop up in surprising places. Like the farm bill.

Tucked deep in the House version of the massive bill — amid crop subsidies and food assistance programs — is a provision that supporters say could help provide farmers with cheaper, but likely less comprehensive, health insurance than plans offered through the Affordable Care Act.

It calls for $65 million in loans and grants administered by the Department of Agriculture to help organizations establish agricultural-related “association” type health plans.

But the idea is not without skeptics.

“I don’t know that anyone at the Department of Agriculture, with all due respect, knows a darn thing about starting and maintaining a successful insurance company,” said Sabrina Corlette, a professor and project director at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

Association health plans are offered through organizations whose members usually share a professional, employment, trade or other relationship, although the Trump administration is soon to finalize new rules widely expected to broaden eligibility while loosening the rules on benefits these plans must include.

Under that proposal, association plans would not have to offer coverage across 10 broad “essential” categories of care, including hospitalization, prescription drugs and emergency care. They could also spend less premium revenue on medical care.

Under the farm bill, the secretary of Agriculture could grant up to 10 loans of no more than $15 million each, starting next year, to existing associations whose members are ranchers, farmers or other agribusinesses.

The language is strikingly similar to a bill introduced April 12 by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), a supporter of association health plans. He did not respond to calls for comment.

Although the farm bill is usually considered “must-pass” by many lawmakers, it is currently facing pushback…

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