Western Growers leadership is working with federal legislators to provide the agricultural community affordable alternatives and first-dollar coverage for undocumented workers that could emulate previously capped plans. Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services has granted temporary exemptions to plans that have annual and lifetime benefit caps which have all but disappeared as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although it’s unclear if these waivers will extend beyond their 2014 shelf life, alternatives are being discussed and may be on the horizon specifically for a newly legalized farm worker population.
As we’ve reported, immigration reform is nearing its final stages in the Senate with a vote expected within the next month. Western Growers has persisted with leadership offices to propose ideas for an amendment related to health plan alternatives to ride with the immigration bill. Under the ACA, United States citizens and green card holders have access to both health exchange tax credits as well as Medicaid, depending on income, to obtain affordable health insurance coverage if the coverage their employer offers proves unaffordable. Under the proposed immigration legislation, newly legalized workers will not be able to access any public benefits, including through the new health care exchanges. Thus it is possible that given the economic and immigration status of farm workers, Congress would effectively be denying present and future farms workers that gain legal status as a result of the temporary worker program access to affordable health insurance. With so many workers involved, alternative solutions are being discussed that might make health insurance for this population more affordable without incurring taxpayer expense.
“It’s an incredibly difficult issue,” said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs. “But we are working with Congressional offices to see what alternatives can be created to both benefit our members, and the workers they employ and rely upon.”
The immigration bill is set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week for review, debate and edits. Once that is completed, the bill will move to the Senate floor for debate in May. Discussions in the House of Representatives are moving along as well. Western Growers is hopeful that affordable alternatives for health care coverage, including perhaps some type of capped plan option, will be available to a newly legal farm worker population as part of the immigration bill. We will of course keep everyone apprised of any developments.
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