Gov. Brian Kemp says a new collaboration between the Georgia Farm Bureau and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield will expand insurance options in rural parts of the state.
The partnership, announced Thursday, will allow farm bureau members to join what’s called a multiple employer welfare arrangement (MEWA).
That will allow them to purchase health plans not offered to individuals on the Obamacare healthcare exchange.
“Hardworking Georgia families will have more choices when purchasing health insurance,” Kemp said. “This partnership will provide better coverage at a lower price to underserved populations in every corner of the Peach State.”
The plans will be underwritten by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. The company says they will be “similar to those available in the ACA marketplace” but declined to outline what services the plans will cover.
Sole proprietors can join the program, along with groups of up to 50 employees. The Georgia Farm Bureau says it currently has about 300,000 member families in the state.
Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John King says those in the state’s agricultural industry deserve other insurance options than those offered on the Affordable Care Act exchange.
“These kinds of [MEWA] programs I think are going to be better because it introduces market forces and competition. The advantage here is that families and farmers will actually make intelligent choices, not just get something shoved down their throat,” he said.
But patient advocates worry the introduction of MEWA health plans will undermine the strength of the Obamacare marketplace.
“When you have individuals and small businesses providing their own coverage under these types of mechanisms, you’re pulling those folks out of the individual marketplace,” said Laura Colbert of Georgians for a Healthy Future.
That, she says, could raise costs for people who buy health plans through the ACA exchange, especially if the people who leave Obamacare options behind for MEWA plans are younger and healthier.
Colbert also points out that MEWA plans tend to offer less comprehensive coverage than those offered through Obamacare.
The plans are also vulnerable to abuse. The U.S. Department of Labor recently published a fact sheet with guidance for individuals whose MEWAs can no longer pay their medical bills and says it’s “devoted significant resources” to investigating MEWA fraud.
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia says farm bureau members can get quotes for the MEWA insurance plans as early as next week and that coverage will go into effect as early as October.