Government

Hubbell, Hart come to agreement on once divergent health care views

She voted for 'insurance-like' health plans he opposed

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred Hubbell stands with his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, on Saturday at the Iowa State Democratic Convention in Des Moines. The two this week explained how they agree on health insurance matters, even though Hart voted for the insurance-like plans the Iowa Legislature approved this year and which Hubbell criticized. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred Hubbell stands with his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, on Saturday at the Iowa State Democratic Convention in Des Moines. The two this week explained how they agree on health insurance matters, even though Hart voted for the insurance-like plans the Iowa Legislature approved this year and which Hubbell criticized. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

On the most important issues, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell and his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, are in “100 percent agreement.”

“We want to put people first and give people the opportunity to have a good, quality education for them and their kids, and job training so we can train people to get good quality jobs in our state,” Hubbell said.

However, on an issue championed by one of the largest groups representing rural Iowans, the retired Des Moines businessman and his farmer-legislator running mate appear to be on opposite sides of the fence.

Hart, a second-term senator from Wheatland in Eastern Iowa, was one of four Democrats to vote for legislation allowing the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to partner with Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield to offer insurance-like health care coverage to its members.

The plans will not be considered health insurance and therefore will not be regulated by the state insurance commissioner. Neither will the plans be subject to Affordable Care Act rules and regulations.

The attraction of the plans will be comparatively low premiums, though people with pre-existing conditions likely will be charged more or denied coverage.

The goal is to help people who don’t have group health care coverage through an employer or government program to buy individual health policies.

THEY AGREE

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While Hart voted for Senate File 2349, Hubbell was four-square opposed.

“This bill would shatter the #ACA, likely driving out the only remaining marketplace provider, effectively monopolizing the market and eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions,” Hubbell said on Twitter. “As #iagov I’d veto this bill to protect access to fair health care.”

As clear as their differences appear, Hubbell and Hart insist they are in total agreement.

While she believes it is “not wise” to offer plans that don’t cover pre-existing conditions, Hart says she was responding to her constituents “who are struggling to find affordable insurance and asking me to give them that option.”

“I don’t think it’s a great option for them, but it was the only option that was available to them,” Hart said. “I wasn’t given the option to vote on something else.”

So despite her vote, she’s in agreement with Hubbell that there are better options for farmers and others in the individual insurance market,

“My guess is that Farm Bureau recognized the reality that a high percentage of people who don’t have individual health insurance are farmers (because) they don’t belong to a company,” said Hubbell, the former chairman of Equitable Life & Casualty Co. “So there’s a big issue for those people. I think Farm Bureau recognized that they need to help them.”

not for all

Farm Bureau recognized that farmers need help getting health care coverage, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said, but Hubbell “has no idea what it’s like to be a farmer or to balance a family budget.”

“That’s why he was so quick to oppose legislation that had support from Republicans, Democrats and the Farm Bureau to provide more Iowans with health insurance,” Kaufmann said.

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Farm Bureau, which declined to comment for this story, didn’t seem to see the legislation as “settling” for a health insurance option.

The cost of health care is the top concern for Farm Bureau members, President Craig Hill said in a news release after the bill was passed.

“Although it isn’t meant to be a solution for all, we are pleased that lawmakers and the governor agree it’s an option for Iowans who need an affordable health plan that works until Congress passes a permanent solution to the current health care cost crisis,” Hill said.

Hill cited a report from the Iowa Insurance Division that more than 20,000 Iowans could not afford to keep their health care coverage in 2018 because they don’t qualify for ACA subsidies. Passage of the legislation came at a critical time for farmers facing the fifth year of a downward ag economy with high production costs and low market prices, Hill said.

OTHER OPTIONS

It might have been the best the Farm Bureau could get with a GOP governor and Legislature, Hubbell said, but there are better options.

He likes a proposal two Democratic lawmakers offered on the first day of the 2018 legislative session to let Iowans who don’t qualify or can’t afford individual insurance to voluntarily opt into the state Medicaid system on a means-tested basis.

“That would have given everybody some kind of insurance,” Hubbell said. “But it was a Democratic idea, so Republicans in the Legislature and governor never even assigned it to a subcommittee.”

Another possibility would be to allow Iowans to opt into the state employee health insurance program.

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Some states have created reinsurance pools on top of the individual insurance market so the state and individual insurance companies would take a slice of the high-risk elements of the individual insurance market.

“The governor and insurance commissioner didn’t want to consider that,” he said. “There really were other options, but they weren’t given any discussion.”

GOP Chairman Kaufmann said Hubbell’s ideas for health care are to “eliminate affordable options, grow government-run health care, and dramatically raise your taxes and premiums.”

“Hubbell can run, but he can’t hide from the fact that he doesn’t have a clue on how to fight for everyday Iowans,” Kaufmann said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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