Bill would allow NC health plans without ACA requirements

The bill was pitched as an answer for farmers, realtors and other small business people facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums and deductibles.

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N.C. health, mental health, Medicaid generic
Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Legislation was tacked onto a bill on school psychologists Thursday that would let the North Carolina Farm Bureau and other nonprofits build new insurance plans without offering all of the coverage required by the Affordable Care Act and other government regulations.

The bill was pitched as an answer for farmers, realtors and other small-business people struggling with skyrocketing health insurance premiums and deductibles. It's based on programs already in place in Iowa and Tennessee, according to the Farm Bureau, which asked for the change.

The move would also help address "the No. 1 need" for real estate agents in the state, lobbyist Cady Thomas said during a committee hearing.

"They're in desperate need of something," she said.

Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten acknowledged the new plans "won't be for everybody," and advocates for the poor said the changes would draw healthy people out of the individual insurance market, raising prices for sick people with fewer options. The change in state code would specifically say these plans aren't insurance, but "nonprofit health benefit plans" not subject to the same rules.

There's no promise the plans would cover people with pre-existing conditions, something Wooten told legislators would have to be taken "under consideration." Farm Bureau lobbyists said they envision a tiered system charging members different amounts. They also pointed to horror stories from families seeking help from the bureau, including one whose premiums shot up to $25,000 a year with a $10,000 deductible.

The legislation didn't move forward Thursday, with members of the Senate Health Care Committee taking it up for discussion only. A vote to move the bill from that committee and toward the Senate floor could come as early as next week.

The bill would also lower a threshold in state code that currently forbids businesses with fewer than 26 employees from offering self-funded insurance plans. The bill as written does away with the cap altogether, but committee Chairman Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said that will be changed to 10 employees.

The North Carolina Justice Center pushed back hard against the legislation Thursday, saying the bill would allow plans to discriminate against North Carolinians with health problems "under the guise of improving affordability." The group called instead for Medicaid expansion, which would offer taxpayer-funded health insurance to the working poor.


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