New "skinny" health insurance plans on sale soon

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LINN COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG)- A new type of “skinny” health insurance is on sale soon for those looking to cut costs. But the cheaper rates may come at a cost in other ways.

Brian Sejkora has an individual health insurance policy now. He says he will think about switching to the new "skinny" plan being offered by the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Iowa lawmakers agreed last spring to let the Iowa Farm Bureau sell an alternative to more expensive health care plans. And what some call “skinny” coverage goes on sale November 1st.

The target market is not Iowans who have health insurance through an employer or those who gets subsidies to help pay for Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare plans.

Rather, the health coverage which should have cheaper rates is intended to appeal to those either without any health insurance or those on an ACA plans without subsidies to cut rates.

Self-employed people, like farmers, have complained about the rising health insurance rates on individual policies.

Brian Sejkora, a Linn County farmer, says his wife no longer has an off-farm job with health insurance. He has an individual health plan issued before the ACA program began that he can keep.

Sejkora says those rates are rapidly rising and if the Farm Bureau coverage is cheaper, he’d consider it.

“The bottom dollar will be the biggest decision for most of them. To get insurance where it’s cheaper, not whether it’s better or not, it’s better than nothing at all,” Sejkora said.

But the expected cheaper rates will come with restrictions.

Applicants must pass underwriting to qualify for coverage—meaning providers can ask questions about health problems and medication.

Those with pre-existing conditions may have to pay more for coverage or may not get coverage at all. Kate O’Brien-May is an patient navigator at the Community Health Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids.

She helps patients chose ACA plans if they qualify.

O’Brien-May says for health individuals the “skinny” plans may indeed cost less. But those who have chronic conditions or need more health care may not save money.

“They’re going to be looking at high deductible costs, they’re going to be looking if they have an emergency situation they’ll be paying a lot out of pocket,” she said.

Those who want to buy the new alternative health coverage plans don’t have to be farmers, but they do have to become members of the Iowa Farm Bureau.

The plans will be marketed through Wellmark Blue Cross-Blue Shield. Sign-ups through insurance agents begin November 1st with coverage starting January 1st.