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March 23, 2017

Navigating Through Another Transition in Health Insurance Reform

By David Zanze

With upcoming changes to health insurance reform in development by the Trump Administration, Western Growers Assurance Trust (WGAT) is prepared once again to roll with the changes and look for solutions that benefit our members. Since 1957, we have been offering health coverage to employers in the agriculture community and during that time, we have seen our share of change to the delivery of health care on both a state and federal level. While adjusting to change can be challenging, we as an organization thrive in this environment and use it to our members’ advantage.

When the state of California passed Assembly Bill 1672 in 1993, WGAT responded by creating new products and plans that helped to mitigate adverse risk resulting from the new law. Those new products kept plans affordable and our organization fiscally stable for our members. The law changed the way small businesses (2-50 employees), could shop, purchase and renew their health insurance coverage. Among other provisions, the bill required insurers to have pricing restrictions on their small group plans of no more than plus or minus 10 percent, as well as guarantee that the plans would be available and renewable in consequent years. At the time of the law’s passage, employers were skeptical and wondered how they would adapt to a new way of purchasing company health care, worrying that it would unravel the insurance industry. As a result, WGAT created a selection of more plan offerings that gave small group employers added flexibility to cover their health risk but still offered a competitive health plan at a rate they could afford.

Then when under the Obama Administration, Congress passed the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March 2010, it eliminated mini-medical plans, which were a popular choice for our WGAT members, especially among seasonal harvesters. WGAT responded by creating the Cedar Network, an effective way for employers to offer basic health coverage to employees at a low premium cost. The Cedar Network was (and still is) a proprietary network designed exclusively for the agriculture community. It allows Western Growers Assurance Trust to offer primary care coverage with a $5 copay while providing unlimited coverage for catastrophic events. It was similar to a mini-medical plan, which offered basic health care to employees, but placed dollar caps on how much was paid out annually in services. The Cedar Network turned out to be a good solution and is one of our most popular health products for members who want to offer an ACA-compliant, cost-effective health plan to their workers.

A key feature of our Cedar Network is the inclusion of Cedar Health and Wellness Centers, located in areas close to where our members and their employees work in areas such as Salinas, Watsonville and Santa Maria. This year, we expanded and have a fourth center in the Oxnard community. We also continue to improve our centers such as moving to larger facilities when necessary and expanding hours in some centers to include Saturdays. For employers who bought health plans after 2014, the Cedar Centers make it easier for plan participants to receive several of the free preventive services covered under the ACA.

Regardless of what is happening with health care reform in our state and federal governments, Western Growers Assurance Trust will continue to ride the winds of change as we have throughout our 60-year history. But one thing will always remain the same—we are focused on our singular mission to offer competitive health plans at a rate our members can afford. We will continue to look for ways to increase value to our health products and make sure that we are listening to our members to meet the unique needs of the agriculture industry.

Moving forward, know that what is in place now for your health insurance remains the same until you hear otherwise and we will keep you abreast of any significant changes that will affect your WGAT health plans. We hope that no matter what the ACA replacement or revision entails, you will continue to see value in offering WGAT health benefits to keep your valued workers healthy and productive.