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MN farmers looking for health insurance now can turn to co-ops

Pro-Ag Farmers Cooperative is following suit of other cooperatives in Minnesota by offering health insurance to its members.

So far, the response from members have been very positive, according to Mark Jaskowiak, the general manager of Pro-Ag.

"Last year, a lot of our members had a difficult time finding insurance and hopefully this will help," Jaskowiak said. "This gives our members another option for health insurance."

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that opened the way for cooperatives to make group insurance programs available to farmers.

Pro-Ag has nearly 1,500 members in Douglas, Ottertail and Todd counties and is merging with the Hoffman Cooperative Grain Association in Grant County.

In September, Pro-Ag sent a letter to its members telling them about the option for a group health plan. Pro-Ag wanted at least 50 members to show interest in the program before it made the decision to move forward with offering the insurance.

At the board meeting that month, Jaskowiak said there was more than enough interest and the board approved moving forward with joining the program.

"We will be offering the same Land O' Lakes health insurance for our members as other cooperatives," said Jaskowiak.

Pro-Ag will host informational meetings for its members next week as the open enrollment period will begin Nov. 13 and end Dec. 1. The insurance will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Informational meetings to go over costs and coverage benefits will take place at these locations:

• Clarissa Ballroom, 19281 Kotter Road, Clarissa — 4 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15.

• Prairie Event Center, 201 West Main St., Parkers Prairie — at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15.

• Brandon Auditorium, 115 Holmes Ave., Brandon — 8 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 16.

Land O'Lakes provides a group health insurance program for its employees as well as the employees of other farmer-owned cooperatives that are also Land O'Lakes members. Pro-Ag is using this as the template to offer the new group health plan for farmers.

Land O'Lakes and a separate farmer cooperative, known as 40 Square, are offering group health insurance policies for farmers in Minnesota under the new legislation.

Land O'Lakes partnered with Gravie, of Minneapolis, to make the program possible. Gravie was started in 2013 as a health benefits marketplace to help customers comparison shop for health care plans, according to a report on the company in Twin Cities Business.

Gravie will assist members who want to compare what is available through the Land O'Lakes program with offerings by other insurance providers.

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Tom Cherveny with the West Central Tribune contributed to this article.

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