MONTGOMERY — Legislation was filed on Tuesday to allow the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) to begin offering health plans to their members.

A public hearing on the bill by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) was held on Wednesday, but no vote was taken in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas have enacted state laws to allow similar plans. Several others are currently considering similar health plan legislation.

Orr said the bill was targeted at helping families with around $120,000 in annual income who make too much money to receive Affordable Care Act subsidies but are also self-employed and struggle to afford private health insurance.

Jimmy Parnell, ALFA President and CEO, said at the hearing on Wednesday, “Fifty-six years ago, we had this program. ACA came along and killed that program. This is not brand new for ALFA. We called it ALFA Health back then.”

“This would be a narrow group of people that are not eligible for government assistance, not eligible for employer coverage. They would not fit. In our minds, this is a workforce development-type deal,” Parnell said. “We’re all talking about workforce. We need more people to work. There are lots and lots of individuals out there that want to do these jobs, want to be self-employed. This would be a product that could provide coverage for these people.”

Ted Hosp, vice president for governmental affairs with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, said the bill would give ALFA an unfair advantage over other insurance companies operating in Alabama.

“Over the years, many of you have stood in the chamber, and I’ve heard you say, 'The legislature shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.' Make no mistake, this bill is all about picking a single winner, ALFA, and giving only them the right to sell an unregulated insurance product that no other company will be allowed to sell,” Hosp said. “This bill is about giving them a special law to sell a product in a way that gives them advantages that no other insurance company has. All for a product that could cause real people very real harm because it allows only ALFA to operate without any oversight and with absolutely no consumer protections. Exempting a single company from all state and federal laws in the name of competition is not pro-business.”

According to ALFA, Alfa Health Plan coverage typically would be 30% to 60% less expensive than unsubsidized health insurance.

Jefferson County farmer Evan Nelson said the legislation “has the potential to be a game-changer for young farmers like me.”

“I don’t worry about raising cattle or growing forages because God provides. What wakes me up at 2 a.m. is the thoughts of caring for Christy and our three boys who are 12, 7, and 4, and health care coverage and price is on top of my list,” Nelson said at the hearing.

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