Ag Policy Blog

NFU Opposes the House Health Care Bill

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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With the House of Representatives now appearing set to vote on the American Health Care Act, the National Farmers Union has written lawmakers reiterating the group's opposition.

NFU states the bill has worsened since it was introduced in March and now offers even less protection for farmers and rural Americans, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

“The most recent amendments to the AHCA only move the bill further away from NFU’s member-driven policy of affirming ‘the right of all Americans to have access to affordable, quality health care,’” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “We will judge any new bill on the basis of whether it is going to cover more people or fewer people. We don’t want to go backwards, and this legislation clearly moves us in the wrong direction.”

NFU's letter pointed to the MacArthur Amendment, which lessens protections for people with preexisting conditions. The amendment grants states the right to opt out of the law’s essential health benefits clause and to change the community rating provision, thus allowing insurers to charge higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions who let their coverage lapse.

“This would force a large number of farmers in many states into high-risk pools,” said Johnson. “Estimates show that the risk pools would be underfunded by as much as $200 billion. This would leave individuals with preexisting conditions to contend with increased premiums, higher deductibles and longer waiting periods for coverage.”

A spokesman for NFU stated the inclusion of a $8 billion fund for those with pre-existing conditions will not begin to cover the underfunded high-risk pools.

NFU stands strongly against the bill’s inclusion of a cap on Medicaid, reforms to the healthcare marketplace, and the proposed system of basing premium subsidies on a person’s age, rather than their income.

“The expansion of Medicaid has proven beneficial to rural communities, where the rate of enrollment is higher than in urban America,” said Johnson. “The Health Insurance Marketplace under current law, while certainly in need of stabilizing measures, makes coverage more accessible for many farm families.”

The AHCA’s proposed system of basing subsidies on age instead of income is particularly troublesome for small farms and younger farmers, noted Johnson. “Young farm families that don’t receive additional income or health benefits from off-farm jobs would find it extremely difficult to purchase health insurance.”

“The proposed legislation would also hurt older farmers,” said Johnson. “Easing restrictions on what insurance companies can charge older customers will leave older farmers facing increased premiums of thousands of dollars.”

Johnson pointed out that the correlation between a strong Medicaid program and the success of rural hospitals has become evident during the influx of rural hospital closures over the last six years.

“Seventy-eight rural hospitals have closed since 2010 with over 80% of those located in states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion,” noted Johnson. “With another 673 hospitals at risk of closure, the AHCA’s proposed Medicaid cap could have devastating consequences for rural communities.”

DTN reported on the challenges with rural hospitals in February. https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Democrats Introduce Ag Labor Bill

Five Democratic senators introduced a bill Wednesday to attempt to protect farmworkers from deportation.

The Agricultural Worker Program Act, as it is called, was praised by Tom Nassif, president and CEO of the fruit and vegetable lobby Western Growers.

“With the introduction of immigration legislation, the Senate elevates an issue often overlooked in the immigration reform debate: Retention of the existing agricultural workforce," Nassif said. "To reform our broken immigration system, Congress must pass bipartisan solutions that acknowledge the contributions and value of current farmworkers while also creating a workable program to enable the future flow of labor to American farms. One without the other will not work."

The bill would not address guest-worker provisions in the H-2A bill. Instead, it will allow farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years to receive "blue card" status. Those farmworkers who maintained blue-card status for three to five years would be eligible to earn a green card or permanent legal status.

The senators who introduced the bill include Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Maizie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of Colorado.

"Everywhere I travel in California, I hear from farmers, growers and producers from all industries -- wine, citrus, fruit and tree nuts, dairy -- that there aren’t enough workers,” Feinstein said. “Farm labor is performed almost exclusively by undocumented immigrants -- a fact that should surprise no one. By protecting farmworkers from deportation, our bill achieves two goals -- ensuring that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to thrive. Despite their significant contributions to California’s economy and communities, farmworkers are now a priority for deportation under this administration’s shameful policies. We simply must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”

The bill is supported by nearly 50 immigrant and farmworker groups as well. The problem with the legislation, however, is lack of GOP support. While Republican senators in the past have supported similar bills such as "Agjobs" legislation, the bill was introduced solely by the five Democrats, who are in the Senate minority.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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