Representatives: Let S.D. Farm Bureau offer members health benefits without oversight

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Farm Bureau and other nonprofit agricultural organizations received final legislative approval Wednesday to make health benefits available to their members without regulation by the state Division of Insurance.

The 50-16 vote by the state House of Representatives sends SB 87 down to Governor Kristi Noem for a decision on whether the legislation should become law. A Farm Bureau official earlier said negotiations were underway for months with state regulators, who are part of her administration.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network sent a statement Wednesday evening urging that the Republican governor veto it.

Representative Rocky Blare, a Republican from Ideal and an independent insurance agent, was the lead sponsor in the House. He said South Dakota Farm Bureau would contract for financial underwriting by another company that would be state-regulated. “Underwritten means it’s not for everybody,” Blare said.

The choice for House members was much steeper than a slippery slope, according to Representative Mark Willadsen, a Sioux Falls Republican and an insurance agent who opposed the bill.

“This is like going down Harney Peak,” Willadsen warned, in a reference to South Dakota’s tallest landmark, now officially known as Black Elk Peak. “There’s no oversight for them to listen to you,” he added. “Let’s not go down this mountain.”

Representative Paul Miskimins, a Mitchell Republican, said South Dakota Farm Bureau has a management contract with Tennessee Farm Bureau for at least five years and options to go longer. Miskimins said Farm Bureau organizations in Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and Kansas have followed Tennessee in offering health benefits. “From all reports, this is working in all five states,” he said.

Representative Ryan Cwach, a Yankton Democrat, said he didn’t really know what he was voting on. “This bill is dangerous to the people who sign up for the plan,” Cwach said, adding “And it’s expensive for the rest of us.”

House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Glenham Republican who farms and also works as a Farm Bureau insurance agent, said the legislation would take South Dakota from two health coverage plans – Avera and Sanford – to three and would open the way for more.

Said Representative Marty Overweg, a New Holland Republican, “This isn’t being forced down anyone’s throat.”  

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