FARM BUREAU OPPOSES HEALTH INSURANCE MANDATES
In an effort to educate state Farm Bureaus on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) effects on the agriculture industry, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) hosted a conference in Washington, D.C., April 11-12. Representing the Alabama Farmers Federation were staff members Mitt Walker, director of National Legislative Programs; Terrie Channell, controller; and Janet Bradford, Alfa Health and Dental director.
A total of 20 state Farm Bureaus were represented at the conference, where attendees heard from a panel of experts that included attorneys, a representative from the National Governors Association, the director of Federal Public Policy of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and a representative from the National Restaurant Association. There was also a session for each Farm Bureau represented to provide an update on what is happening in their states with respect to the creation of health care exchanges.
In discussing some of the details of the law addressed at the conference, Walker emphasized the complexities employers are facing today that stem from the PPACA, specifically the unique challenges farmers will face in determining how the employer mandate impacts their businesses.
“Businesses that choose to offer too many benefits in an employee health plan can face penalties for providing what has been deemed as ‘Cadillac plans,’” said Walker. “Now, business owners are put in the position of being fined if they don’t offer enough coverage in a plan, but also face sanctions if the plan contains too many benefits.”
Abiding by the guidelines will be difficult for employers as a whole, said Walker, but complications within the agricultural sector could result in fewer new hires.
“Determining how to comply is even more complicated for farms, agribusinesses and other industries like restaurants and tourism that rely on seasonal and part-time labor,” added Walker. “Unfortunately, at a time when jobs are desperately needed in Alabama, some businesses may be putting off hiring additional employees because of the uncertainty created by this new series of laws and the pending Supreme Court ruling.”
AFBF, of which the Alabama Farmers Federation is a member, recently filed comments with the House Ways and Means Committee expressing opposition to the individual and employer health insurance mandates in the health care reform law enacted last year.
According to a release issued by AFBF officials, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act penalizes farm and ranch businesses with 50 or more “full-time equivalent” employees if they do not provide government-prescribed health insurance, or if certain employees receive a tax credit and purchase insurance through state-regulated health insurance exchanges.
“Farm Bureau is opposed to mandates that require individuals to have health insurance and that require employers to provide it for their workers,” AFBF said in its written comments. “Most farmers and ranchers are self-employed and buy health insurance for themselves and their workers through individual and small group markets. Coverage mandates accompanied by penalties for noncompliance will only make a difficult situation worse for people already unable to afford coverage.”
There is also uncertainty about whether affordable, short-term coverage will be available for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers. In March, AFBF was one of several organizations that sent a letter to the Ways and Means Committee chairman and ranking member in support of the American Job Protection Act (H.R. 1744), which would repeal the employer mandate.
The subcommittee’s hearing may inform a debate later this year over rewriting the health care law, in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the health insurance mandates. The Supreme Court will render its decision this summer.