Health insurance, the co-op way

Land O’Lakes rolls out health insurance services for farmers

A Land O

It’s not often that you hear the words "simple" and "health insurance” used together in a sentence. That’s because the entire insurance process has a reputation for being less than easy. But for Land O’Lakes, Inc. members, the idea of simple health insurance is now a reality thanks to BuyPoint Insurance Solutions (BIS).

This new service is the newest health care solution offered to Land O’Lakes members providing consultation services and helping them find custom-designed insurance plans based on their specific needs.

BIS is not a health insurance plan; it is a streamlined consultation service to help our member-owners navigate the process of finding an affordable healthcare plan by searching through the different insurance plans offered by different companies.

Simplifying the healthcare process isn’t a small feat, mind you. Health insurance is one of the buzziest topics around, and for good reason. Today, every citizen is legally required to carry health insurance, but many states have seen prices go up and the entire process of finding coverage can be pretty complicated—this can be especially true for people in rural communities.

Seeing the need

"For the last few years, our members voiced a huge concern about health insurance," says Jason Link, director of Member Products and Risk. "This really amplified this past summer so Land O’Lakes kicked this process into gear to find a solution."

Even though we are a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes as a company cannot provide health insurance directly to our members. This meant many members were forced to sign up as individuals in an arduous process through insurance companies or the healthcare exchanges. And as anyone who has ever signed up individually for health insurance will tell you, arduous is a kind word for how difficult of a process it actually is.

It had become clear that there was a huge need for streamlining the health insurance process for individual members. So in 2016, Land O’Lakes decided to create an offering that addressed this need and could be replicated on a larger scale.

"Land O’Lakes worked diligently to bring this solution to our members. We built a consultation agency called BuyPoint Insurance Solutions to help our members in any capacity," says Pam Grove, president of BIS. "Whether you are a farmer looking for individual coverage or you need to provide coverage for multiple employees, we want to be your trusted advisor."

Getting down to BIS-ness

BIS is a multifaceted agency, a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, Inc., designed to work with our members to help them understand the process, provide consultation services and help them access care that fits their individual needs.

"Whether a member needs help finding coverage or just needs someone to call to help them understand the ins and outs of health insurance, we are here for our members," says Nicole LaValle, manager of BIS.

For 2016 coverage, Land O’Lakes piloted the program with our dairy members in Minnesota.

"I’m very impressed with how quickly Land O’Lakes was able to roll this out in Minnesota. We started having conversations in July and then by the end of September, we had a plan to move forward," says Sadie Frericks, a dairy producer in Minnesota.

Fitted for farmers

Sadie Frericks and her family milk about 75 cows. Sadie has been a longtime advocate for finding health insurance options for Land O’Lakes members especially after her premiums rose in the last year.

When Sadie heard about the plan to bring BIS to our members, she was dubious. She left the first informational meeting in the fall of 2016 in Melrose, Minnesota, believing that BIS sounded too good to be true.

But when Sadie signed up in November of 2016, she found the process to be very simple. All she had to do was go online and input information about her family and what types of plans they might be interested in. When she was finished, a list of possible plans showed up on her screen, and she could choose what would work best for her family. She was also able to call in and get help every step of the way.

"I was a bit skeptical at first, but Land O’Lakes made good on their word," says Sadie. "I’m just extremely proud and delighted that we have a solution that makes things simpler. I don’t know what other farmers have experienced in terms of any savings, but the BIS solution made a huge difference for my family."

But we know that there’s no one type of farmer. Some of our member farms are entirely family operated, others are too large for any one family to manage, employing many individuals who are in need of health insurance, too. Luckily, BIS makes the health insurance process simple for each employee to find plans to fit their individual needs, too.

"Everyone is very nice and knowledgeable. The whole health care process is intimidating for a lot of people. Buypoint Insurance Solutions does a good job of being the middleman for that," says Connie Meyer, a dairy member and owner of Quarry Hill Dairy, LLC.

With the enrollment period coming to a close this month, BIS had consultations with more than 100 members and helped facilitate 85 new policies for members and their employees. With the success of the pilot, we’re hoping to be able to provide user-friendly healthcare support services for almost all of our dairy producers by year end 2017.

More than just dairy

BIS is just the latest healthcare-related offering Land O’Lakes has developed for member-owners. In 2012, we introduced the Member Cooperative Health Plan. While BIS offers solutions for individual farmers, the Member Cooperative Health Plan is for our co-op customers, which are locally owned agricultural businesses who partner with us for the sale of crop inputs and/or animal nutrition products.

"This offer is in its sixth successful year of operations and provides participating cooperatives with high quality benefit solutions," says Pam, who also serves as vice president of the Member Cooperative Health Plan. "The program continues grow in record numbers since participating cooperative receive top notch services, favorable and predictable pricing, and can hand off time consuming benefit administration and navigation of the ever-changing regulatory environment."

Under this program, participating cooperatives receive comprehensive compliant benefits while offering competitive prices by pooling participating cooperatives together and leveraging the Land O’Lakes brand and buying power. This program currently provides healthcare benefits to over 10,000 co-op employees and their dependents.

Next steps

"At the end of the day, the biggest thing we’re able to do at Land O’Lakes is to recognize challenges and provide as much value as possible to our members through innovative products and services,” says Jason.

Looking toward the future, Land O’Lakes is working on rolling out BIS nationwide for our dairy members by the end of 2017. And that’s just the beginning, the BIS team is already looking into how they can expand the offering to other members and is fully prepared to adapt to any upcoming changes to healthcare legislation.

"It is difficult to navigate the healthcare market and receive favorable pricing. Our offering through BuyPoint Insurance Solution makes this experience easy and effective and in many cases can save our members money," says Pam. "Our agency is different than a typical insurance agency given our focus is based on a benefit consulting model, rather than maximizing commission dollars. We work to find affordable healthcare solutions and take care of the hassles of navigating this tedious process."