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Published November 11, 2013, 11:45 AM

Farmers hit by insurance carrier changes

Website problems add to farmer's frustration.

By: Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., says he has been contacted by a number of North Dakotans about the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare — since the controversial and problem-riddled program was introduced Oct. 1.

“What we’ve noticed is a lot of people who are self-employed — which includes, of course, a lot of farmers and ranchers — are being dropped,” Cramer says. “We’re getting at least a couple calls per day now where people are telling us their insurance is being dropped. Of course, the problem is they were promised that wouldn’t happen by the top guy in the country.”

Forum News Service reports that thousands of North Dakotans who buy health insurance independently will have their policies cancelled or changed beginning Jan. 1 because of the Affordable Care Act.

Health insurance companies have already started sending notices to Peace Garden State citizens, including one area farmer who isn’t pleased about the changes.

“When the law first passed, I got booted from one insurance company to another,” says Jim Pahlmeyer, who lives in New England and farms south of Lefor, N.D. “The insurance company I previously had decided to pull out of North Dakota. They were good enough to line me up with a different insurance company. Since I was with the new company, they were treating me pretty well. But I got a letter that said they were discontinuing my policy.”

Wayne Buccholz, a rancher from Rhame, N.D., who says he has purchased insurance independently for years, contacted all three members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation after learning his carrier was dropping him.

“I’m not one to get too upset about things, but this deal really has me mad,” Buccholz says. “We got a letter a few weeks ago that said they were dropping our policy because they were leaving North Dakota. I’ve paid my own insurance for years and years. When I got that letter, it just hit me — because somebody in Washington decided I was too stupid to figure out if my policy was right for me or not.”

Impacts of the change

In North Dakota, the health care changes will wipe out virtually all of the 2,500 individual insurance plans carried by Medica and Sanford Health.

About 42,500 North Dakotans — roughly 6 percent of the state — were covered by individual plans at the end of 2012, according to state insurance records, the report states.

Breanna Clemons of Dickinson says she looked into signing up for a coverage plan on the much-maligned Health and Human Services insurance marketplace website, www.healthcare.gov, but found it didn’t work.

She has made up her mind to stay away from Obamacare.

“I tried to sign up, but I got to the part where I got a message that said my application couldn’t be processed,” Clemons says. “The entire thing just shut down at that point and stopped working. I’m done with it, I’m not doing it. My husband got a new job, but we have to wait 90 days to get on his plan, so I thought I would look at the government plans and compare. But I think I would rather go a different route.”

Because of the Clemonses’ concerns with other elements of the Affordable Care Act, such as mandatory contraceptive coverage, Clemons says she was leaning toward looking at Christian-based plans to compare and contrast with her husband’s plan.

Cramer pointed out that insurance plans meeting the Affordable Care Act’s regulations will be “grandfathered” in, but those that don’t will be canceled or upgraded.

“This demonstrates that you, as an individual, don’t have the freedom anymore to create a plan that meets your individual needs,” Cramer says. “That’s part of the problem with a one-size-fits-all government program. The reason for that is because they need healthy people to buy expensive plans that they probably don’t need and pay a lot because they need that revenue to subsidize people who are sick. It’s a classic example of why this type of socialization of an industry does not work in a free society.”

Buccholz, who is married with two children, says his current provider will offer coverage until sometime this spring.

After that, he isn’t sure what will happen.

“I don’t pay a lot of attention to politics, but usually what gets decided in Washington doesn’t slap you in the face like this law has with me,” Buccholz says.

“I’ve gone on healthcare.gov and used the estimators they direct you to. I could be going from a $2,500 deductible to something between $10,000 and $12,000, the way it looks to me. This is going to cost me a lot more for something I don’t even want.”

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