Dairy producer Steve Landwehr says the Minnesota Farmers Co-op plan, created and sponsored by Land O'Lakes, gives him and his family better health insurance options at a more reasonable rate than his previous coverage. This provides peace of mind, especially for Landwehr and his wife, the parents of five young boys—the oldest is 6, the youngest born last November. They live in Watkins, Minn., southwest of St. Cloud, where Steve is an owner and managing partner of United Dairies.
“The options are more suited for my family than my older plan,” he says, having been on it since Jan. 1. “Lower deductibles for a lot better coverage. A lower premium, too.” Their previous plan also limited their care providers. “If we felt the doctors weren’t doing a good job, we had no choice but to work with them,” Steve says. “Now, we have more freedom."
The Minnesota Farmers Co-op plan is the latest of the health insurance offerings Land O’Lakes makes available to member-owners. Offered are three separate programs:
- The Member Cooperative Health Plan provides co-ops a high-quality, cost-effective and compliant benefits solution for co-op employees and their families.
- For those who don’t have an option on the Member Cooperative Health Plan, BuyPoint Insurance Solutions (BIS) works with retailers, their employees and any of our members on an individual basis to help them find affordable insurance plans for their families and businesses.
- Land O’Lakes and BIS are partnered with Gravie, a health insurance marketplace based in Minneapolis, to take advantage of a unique change in Minnesota law and provide the Minnesota Farmers Co-op plan option designed exclusively for co-op members and their patrons.
The three are a response to feedback and requests by members struggling to find quality health insurance at an affordable rate. “We know there are serious problems with affordability and access, and we’re here to find solutions to assist you no matter what kind of Land O’Lakes member you are,” says Pamela Grove, who leads Land O’Lakes’ efforts on health insurance offerings.
Members are encouraged to look at their current coverage options. With the repeal of the individual mandate as part of the new tax bill, members may want to explore their options to make sure they’re not overspending. “Look at everything we have to help you with this tough decision,” Grove says. “We’ve listened to you, stepped in, and we keep adding, evolving and expanding to meet your needs to take advantage of what we can offer. It’s always good to know your options.”
These efforts began about eight years ago after Land O’Lakes President and CEO Chris Policinski wondered what the farmer-owned dairy cooperative could do to help co-ops struggling to offer health care.
This then led to the Member Cooperative Health Plan, which began in Minnesota in 2012.
Today, this program provides health benefits to more than 12,000 co-op employees and their dependents in 12 states. “And it continues to grow and show significant benefits and value to the co-ops and their employees,” Grove says.
In fact, Grove says it has significantly reduced healthcare costs for co-ops on average of 5 to 25 percent, while offering greater individual choices through more plan options, such as a strong Blue Cross Blue Shield national network. Before the plan, co-ops raised concerns to Land O’Lakes after seeing double-digit increases in their health plans. The Member Cooperative Health Plan eases those concerns by pooling the participating co-ops together and leveraging the Land O’Lakes brand to offer competitive prices and provide a full-scale offering of benefits. Leveraging Land O’Lakes buying power, it also provides comprehensive compliant benefits, an employee assistance program and a full-service call center. “All the things that a smaller company probably wouldn’t have,” she says.
Building on that success, Land O'Lakes created BuyPoint Insurance Solutions in 2016. As an exclusive insurance agency for Land O’Lakes’ member-owners, BIS provides full-service consulting to assist our members with benefit needs including medical, dental, life, disability and voluntary products, providing an avenue for individual farmers to obtain insurance coverage for themselves, their families and their employees.
“We started BuyPoint as a way to make sure that legally we had brokers where we needed them to help our members,” says Grove, who is president of BIS. “The goal of that plan is to help consult, provide better follow-up and reduce what they’re paying in commissions to their current broker.”
And, at the beginning of 2018, the additional option to buy insurance through the Minnesota Farmers Co-op plan was made available to select Minnesota co-op members and all Minnesota dairy members.
The pilot program began small, but Land O'Lakes is now expanding it to more Minnesota co-ops in 2019. Land O’Lakes partners with its co-ops to offer this to their members; the co-op decides to participate for their patrons.
The goal is to grow the plan to Nebraska and other states. Grove says they are working on lobbying for similar legislation that would allow for this type of plan in Nebraska, as well as on the federal level. Before the plan began, Land O’Lakes organized numerous town halls throughout the state to gather feedback. “They were in tears,” Grove says of the attendees at one particular meeting. “I got a ton of hugs and thank you’s. They don’t know where to turn. They’re confused. They can’t afford to spend the kind of money on healthcare that they’ve had to. It’s almost like ‘Do we keep the farm and eat or do we keep our healthcare?’ Those are horrible choices for people to have to make.”
Brian Broderius, a farmer in Hector, Minn., has been on the plan since it began, with his wife and oldest son, a college student. Broderius says it's costing him less than his previous one and gives his family more provider choices. “We’re saving some money, and it’s doing what it’s supposed to for us six months in,” he says. “We’re happy.”
Broderius and Landwehr serve on the board that helps regulate the Minnesota Farmers Co-op plan.
Landwehr says the self-funded plan is using the power of the entire group to keep rates low. “Our goal is to get health care to everybody and get it to everybody reasonably priced,” he states.
“The more people we can get on here, the better it would be for all of us,” Broderius adds.
Through the Minnesota Farmers Co-op Plan and our previously established Member Health Plan for member cooperatives and BIS, Land O’Lakes is continuing to find ways to provide new options to help our members, their families and employees find cost-effective coverage and avoid hassles of hunting down policies.