PIERZ, Minn. — The fruits of a 15-year plan are available for harvest for Minnesota farmers. Thanks to Minnesota state legislative changes passed in January 2017, 40 Square Cooperative Solutions was able to swing the barn doors open for disenfranchised farmers of Minnesota by offering an alternative healthcare plan.
    40 Square is a self-insured independent agricultural health care cooperative. In 2018 – the inaugural year – 40 Square is covering 1,100 people across the state. The program hopes to create competition and specifically serve the agricultural community in the healthcare marketplace.
    “In 2016, going into 2017, at least seven Minnesotan counties were to have no individual insurance options due to major carriers leaving the marketplace,” said Charlene Vrieze, 40 Square Executive Director. “Most recently, some plans are now dropping small groups who only have their spouse as their sole employee.”
    It was this gap in coverage, along with several other concerns, that fueled 40 Square’s creation and purpose. 40 Square is centered in St. Paul and it began offering coverage Jan. 1. Last fall, the co-op conducted informational meetings in over 30 communities around the state beginning in September 2017.
    “We are a grassroots organization trying to get the word out,” Vrieze said. “We are a one-of-a-kind provider, specific to the agricultural community within the state of Minnesota.”
    Representatives from 40 Square hosted an informational meeting at the Pierz Ballroom Aug. 22 in Pierz.
    At the presentation, Vrieze and an EBSO, Inc. Senior Sales Specialist, Terri Moxley, explained what being a member of 40 Square entailed.
    “40 Square exists with the goal of offering Minnesota farmers a transparent program that fulfills the shortcomings of existing healthcare and provides additional healthcare plans,” Moxley said.
    The co-op believes its service is unique in that they offer ownership of the co-op to all members within the program through purchase voting and common stock.
    “Reserves from premiums that members pay stay within the plan,” Moxley said. “Since the members have ownership of the co-op, they get to decide how to spend the reserved money.”
    Another unique facet of 40 Square is the offering of 24/7 telemedicine services and the ability for farmers to add their spouses to the plan as an employee.
    Six health plans are available through the program – some of which are compatible with the health savings account programs. The 40 Square deductible plans range from $1,500-$6,550.
    According to an informational handout created by 40 Square, eligible co-op members must be considered an employer, having at least one common law employee [W-2]. Members must actively work in production agriculture and file either Form 1065 or Schedule F with their income tax return, or provide direct services to production agriculture within Minnesota.
    40 Square is a self-funded program that relies on a grouping of employers. The grouping takes on the risk of the plan by purchasing reinsurance through Munich Reinsurance America to limit risk for the plan and its members. The co-op partners with Preferred One for their Minnesota doctor network, MultiPlan for nationwide doctor coverage, Alithias for member assistance, EBSO as their third-party administrator, MedTrakRX for prescription drugs and HealthiestYou for their telemedicine program.
    40 Square’s intent is to provide a specialized plan for farmers that will be more tailored and competitive than coverage offered through other providers and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
    Allan Welle, dairy farmer and truck driver, expressed interest in the alternative healthcare plan at the meeting.
    “Affordability is the big draw for me,” Welle said. “Obamacare was one of the hardest things for a lot of us farmers. Healthcare premiums more-than doubled. It was the Affordable Care Act, but for who?”
    For farmers the program comes as a relief. Though the program is still young, the alternative healthcare plan is going well for the farmers enrolled within.
    “Through the month of May, the 40 Square members used HealthiestYou enough that the administrative costs were offset for that telemedicine service feature for the rest of the year,” Moxley said.
    Vrieze agreed and expounded on the benefits of the telemedicine service.
    “Through HealthiestYou, our members can be treated for common conditions such as sinus infections, ear infections, rashes over the phone without a copay or deductible,” Vrieze said. “Our customer service also provides cost-comparison for medical procedures. Benefits like these puts the power in the hands of our members, makes it more convenient for our members and severely cuts the overall economic burden on them as individuals and on the program.”
    Open enrollment takes place Nov. 1-Dec. 19. Coverage will start Jan. 1, 2019 for those who do enroll.
    40 Square is setting its sights on doubling its 1,100-membership and spreading awareness for its healthcare program for the 2018 calendar year in order to grow the program’s members and embolden their coverage options. Additional community informational meetings will take place around the state, now through December.
    As it stands, the 40 Square health plans are only offered within Minnesota but the board of directors is interested in expanding to other states in the future.
    For more information about 40 Square Cooperative Solutions and details on future meetings, visit http://www.40Square.coop or contact the co-op at 844-205-9579.