PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A majority of South Dakota senators agreed Wednesday that nonprofit agricultural organizations should be allowed to offer health benefits to their members and be exempt from state insurance regulation.
The 19-15 vote came after an amendment clarified that the healthcare benefit coverage would need to be reinsured by a company authorized to do business in South Dakota and the reinsurance company must annually file a report.
The amendment also would require the healthcare benefit application and contract prominently state the plan isn’t insurance.
South Dakota Farm Bureau proposed the legislation but other nonprofit ag groups would be eligible too. SB 87 now goes to the House of Representatives for a second hearing.
Senate Republican leader Gary Cammack of Union Center said Farm Bureau wants to offer an affordable alternative to insurance companies. He said Farm Bureau plans to contract with a third-party administrator to reinsure and operate the plan. The state Division of Insurance would regulate the reinsurer, he said.
“This is just another option to avoid the other option of no insurance at all,” Cammack said. He referred to an estimate that 80,000 South Dakotans aren’t covered.
The American Cancer Society issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying the legislation would undermine patient protections. Farm Bureau in turn issued a tweet Wednesday morning urging members to contact senators.
Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert of Mission said he couldn’t support the legislation because there was the chance something costly would happen and the health benefits wouldn’t cover it.
Senator Jim Stalzer, a Sioux Falls Republican, said farmers and ranchers need some type of affordable healthcare coverage.
Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, said the plan wouldn’t cover pre-existing conditions, childbirth or other major medical costs. Nesiba said letting the plan pick out the healthiest people would drive up the costs for people who have insurance.
“This is about access to affordable healthcare for a large group of South Dakotans,” Senator Lee Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican, said. “I’m not sure I’d call this cherry-picking.”
Both Steinhauer and Schoenbeck said the federal Affordable Care Act drove up costs during the past decade.
Senator Al Novstrup, an Aberdeen Republican, said the legislation could save $500 a month for 13,000 families. “I think it’s good for the people of South Dakota,” Novstrup said.
“As I stated before, this is about options,” Cammack said.