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No need for Obamacare?: Farmers can now get group insurance through their co-ops

Thanks to a new state law, some Minnesota farmers can say goodbye to the ups and downs of the individual health insurance market and say hello to nice, stable group health insurance plans offered through their co-ops.

The 250 or so eligible farmers who are members of Community Co-ops of Lake Park, for example, have until Dec. 29 to sign up for the new group health insurance plans offered through a partnership between Land O'Lakes and Gravie, a Minnesota- based health benefits company.

In recent years, most Minnesota farmers could only find health insurance in the individual health insurance market. This year, buyers of individual health policies were helped when the state offered a 25 percent rebate on individual health plans.

But there will be no rebate next year, and many farmers and their families are facing average health insurance cost hikes of 30 percent or more.

But the new Minnesota law allows agricultural co-op members to band together to purchase group health benefits. That prompted Land O' Lakes to partner with Gravie to offer group health plan options designed exclusively for their farmer-owned co-op members, including Community Co-ops of Lake Park members. So far, members enrolled in the plan are seeing savings of up to 20 percent.

It was "absolutely" an easy decision for Lake Park Community Co-ops to participate in the group health insurance plan, said co-op general manager Dave Blomseth."Our members don't have many options for health insurance, with the individual markets drying up," he said. The new plan allows them to save money on premiums and have access to a bigger, broader spectrum of providers, he said.

Those providers include "all the big clinics and hospitals you might imagine," including Mayo, Sanford Health and the University of Minnesota, among many others, said Brad LaRock, CMO at Gravie.

With Gravie, Community Co-ops of Lake Park members get access to eight group health plans ranging from catastrophic to comprehensive coverage. All plans provide access to a broad network of healthcare providers in Minnesota as well as nationally. In addition to health insurance, Gravie offers other plans, including dental, vision and life insurance.

Founded in 2013, Gravie today serves over 900 employers and over 62,000 members across the United States.

The program is not completely new to Land O'Lakes, which introduced Gravie to 140 Minnesota dairy farms in 2016.

A majority of them (about 75 percent) chose to participate, and the co-op heard good things about cost savings, simplicity and support services provided by Gravie.

"Originally, Land O' Lakes contacted us for their dairy farmers—a lot of them are small employers," LaRock said. "We like it because we're really changing the way people think about benefits—we're putting the consumers first instead of last in the chain."

The program for dairy farmers was well-received, inspiring Land O' Lakes to work with Gravie to expand the program to their Minnesota and national farmer owned co-op members in 2018.

"We provide a list (of eligible members) to Gravie, and they make the contacts," Blomseth said. "I'm not sure how many have signed up, (but) the members I know that have signed up have saved significant dollars ... They haven't used the insurance yet, so that side is yet to be determined."

Farmers are required to do a certain amount of business with the co-op to qualify for participation in the group health insurance plan. At Community Co-ops, that amount is $3,000. At other co-ops, it can be $5,000 or $10,000 worth of business, LaRock said.

Under the group insurance plan, co-ops put in a pool of money, and premiums paid by farmers go into the pool as well. Claims are then paid out of that pool, Blomseth said. "Gravie works with Land O' Lakes—we are one of 52 co-ops that are members of Land O' Lakes," Blomseth said.

Other cooperatives working with Gravie on the plan in this region include Pro-Ag (located in the Alexandria, Parkers Prairie, Eagle Bend area) and Centra Sota co-op (located in the Little Falls to St. Cloud area).

Enrollment for Community Co-ops of Lake Park members for group health insurance is open until Dec. 29. Co-op members who are interested in learning more about this new option should visit gravie.com/mncoop and select "Get Started." Questions? Call 844-538-4690 or email coop@gravie.com.