House OKs bill allowing Texas Farm Bureau to sell health insurance exempt from insurance laws

House OKs bill allowing Texas Farm Bureau to sell health insurance exempt from insurance laws

They also warned that the new plans could siphon off young, healthy people from the ACA marketplace, potentially driving up costs in that program. Several Democrats fought the bill, saying it would lead to discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, who could be denied, charged more or forced to wait up to six months before coverage kicks in. “That’s how insurers can cherry pick out the healthiest people to bring into a plan, while leaving people with a pre-existing condition… in other plans,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “That drives up rates and makes insurance more expensive across the board.”

Republicans said mandates are what’s driving up costs and noted the Texas Farm Bureau could offer those same benefits if members want them. Unlike most insurance policies though, this one would not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act and its requirements to provide a wide range of benefits, such as mental health and pregnancy care.

“We get into the mentality of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and make everything look the same,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, an anesthesiologist. “We need choice. We need competition. We need a variety of options in the marketplace.” Backers say the new coverage could provide cheaper alternatives for people who cannot afford health insurance. It would apply to the relatively small number of Texans who purchase coverage on their own and aren’t insured through an employer, Medicaid or Medicare.

The latest federal COVID-19 package increases subsidies for ACA plans and extends them to people with higher incomes. Texas Farm Bureau Executive Director Si Cook said members consistently report they cannot find affordable health insurance, especially in rural areas. Under the bill, the organization could offer health plans to its more than 533,000 members, who live across the state and don’t have to work in agriculture to join. The plans could not be sold on the ACA marketplace or qualify for subsidies. It remains to be seen what effect the changes would have for plans sold on the federal exchange, where individuals can go to buy coverage. While health insurance premiums spiked in the years after the Affordable Care Act took effect, they’ve since stabilized in Texas. The average premium cost is about $550 a month, though what people actually pay drops to about $78 on average with federal subsidies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Roughly 5 million Texans lack health insurance, the most of any state. Republican House leaders named the bills as a priority to increase access and affordability. They have not entertained a Democrat-led attempt to expand Medicaid, which would provide coverage to more low-income adults. The bill passed the Republican-controlled chamber 93-52 with several Democrats voting in favor.

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