Senate Dems say health law has unintended consequences for farmers

The healthcare reform law could threaten farmers’ insurance coverage, a group of Senate Democrats said.

The law could undermine farmers’ cooperatives, which provide coverage for thousands of farmers and their families. That threat is an “unintended, and unwanted” side effect of the law’s tax credits, Democrats said.

The healthcare law provides tax credits to low-income people who buy coverage through newly created exchanges. The senators said farmers should be able to claim those subsidies without leaving their cooperatives for an exchange.

Sens. Herb Kohl (Wis.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) raised the issue in a letter to Medicare Administrator Don Berwick.

“We share the concern of the cooperatives that unless they are allowed to provide coverage to their members on an even playing field with the exchanges, they will inevitably lose significant participation from their membership, thus putting at risk the integrity of their risk pool, increasing the premiums for remaining members, and ultimately threatening the viability of their model,” the senators wrote.

They said farmers’ cooperatives offer agriculture-specific benefits that plans in the exchanges are unlikely to cover. And because cooperatives are only open to agricultural workers, they’re not eligible for inclusion in exchanges.

The lawmakers urged Berwick to grant a waiver that would allow co-op members to keep their coverage and still receive the subsidies they would be eligible for in an exchange.