How Does Farm Bureau Health Coverage Work?

Regulation Differs From Other Types of Coverage

Man and woman in an agricultural field doing soil testing

PeopleImages/Getty Images 

In some states, the local Farm Bureau offers health plans to individuals or small groups as an alternative to Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant health coverage. The specifics of these plans vary across the states where they're available, but they tend to be less expensive than ACA-compliant plans. In this article, we'll explain how these plans work and the healthcare reform process that has led to their creation.

Note that this article is about non-ACA-compliant health coverage that's provided via Farm Bureau programs; some Farm Bureaus help their members enroll in ACA-compliant health plans through their state's exchange, and others partner with a health insurance brokerage that helps members enroll in health plans available in their state. But those sort of programs are not what we mean when we talk about coverage that's sponsored by Farm Bureau.

Health Plan Choices

Most working-age Americans get their health coverage from an employer. But people who aren't eligible for Medicare, Medicaid/CHIP, or an employer's plan have to purchase their own health coverage in the individual market.

The ACA imposed significant reforms in the individual market, ensuring that the plans cover essential health benefits and that people who buy their own health coverage are able to enroll regardless of their medical history. And the ACA's premium subsidies make that coverage affordable for millions of Americans.

The American Rescue Plan has temporarily made those subsidies larger and eliminated the income cap for subsidy eligibility (so there's no "subsidy cliff" through the end of 2022). And the Build Back Better Act would extend those subsidy improvements through the end of 2025.

But there are still people who don't qualify for premium subsidies despite facing unaffordable premiums. This includes people caught by the "family glitch" as well as people trapped in the coverage gap in 11 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA. (The Build Back Better Act would temporarily fix the coverage gap, but does not address the family glitch.)

People in this situation are sometimes seeking other alternatives for their health coverage, particularly if they're in fairly good health and not currently using their health coverage extensively. Some turn to short-term health insurance plans, especially in states that allow these plans to renew for up to three years.

Others choose healthcare sharing ministries. Others opt for various combinations of fixed indemnity plans and direct primary care plans. And in several states, Farm Bureau health plans are available as another alternative, although eligibility rules vary from one state to another.

Farm Bureau Plans Exempt From State Law

In several states, Farm Bureau plans are explicitly exempt from state insurance laws, as these states do not consider Farm Bureau plans to be health insurance. This is the case in Tennessee, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, and South Dakota (Texas has also enacted legislation to allow this, but the Texas Farm Bureau has not yet debuted health plans under the new law).

Tennessee's Farm Bureau health plans predate the ACA, but the other five states have passed laws within the last few years that specifically allow Farm Bureau to offer medically underwritten health coverage that's not considered health insurance under state rules.

In all of these states, enrollment in the Farm Bureau plans is available year-round. And anyone can apply, as long as they're members of the Farm Bureau. Membership is just a matter of paying dues; there is no requirement that the person is actively engaged in agriculture in order to join the Farm Bureau or gain coverage under the Farm Bureau health plans available in these four states.

Note that Farm Bureau membership dues do not cover the cost of the health benefits; those are paid separately, in addition to the cost of belonging to the Farm Bureau.

Because these plans use medical underwriting, they can reject applicants due to their medical history, or impose waiting periods before pre-existing conditions are covered. And since these plans are not considered health insurance, they are not required to comply with state or federal health insurance mandates.

So for example, they don't have to cover essential health benefits, and can offer plans with maximum out-of-pocket limits that are much higher than ACA-compliant plans are allowed to have.

The available plans vary considerably in terms of the benefits they offer. It depends on the state and the specific plan that a person chooses; some are quite comprehensive, while others are more bare-bones.

Because these plans do not have to comply with state and federal insurance mandates, and because they're medically underwritten (and thus can reject applicants based on medical history or impose pre-existing condition waiting periods), they have monthly premiums that are lower than the full-price cost of ACA-compliant coverage for a person who isn't eligible for premium subsidies in the exchange.

This was the driving force behind the creation of these plans, as they can potentially provide a more affordable alternative for healthy people in that situation. But the plans are also controversial, as they are not technically health insurance and can potentially result in the ACA-compliant risk pool having poorer overall health (and thus higher premiums) if healthy people leave the ACA-compliant risk pool in favor of non-insurance options.


For nearly three decades, the Tennessee Farm Bureau's health plans have been exempt from Tennessee's health insurance regulations, as the state does not consider the product they offer to be health insurance.

Because the coverage is not considered health insurance, people who relied on it from 2014 through 2018 were subject to the ACA's individual mandate penalty. But that penalty was reduced to $0 as of 2019, so Tennessee residents who enroll in Farm Bureau plans are no longer penalized by the IRS for not having minimum essential coverage.

And thousands of Tennessee residents have been relying on these plans in recent years, finding them to be a more affordable alternative to ACA-compliant individual major medical coverage, despite their drawbacks. Membership in the Tennessee Farm Bureau is required in order to apply for coverage, and costs $30 per year.


Iowa enacted legislation in 2018 (Senate File 2349) that allows the Iowa Farm Bureau to offer medically underwritten health plans. The legislation specifies that the plans are not considered insurance and are not subject to the state's requirements for health insurance plans. The policies became available for purchase in November 2018, with coverage effective at the start of 2019.


Kansas enacted legislation in 2019 (House Bill 2209) that allows the Kansas Farm Bureau to sell medically underwritten health plans. The legislation specifies that the coverage is not considered health insurance and is not subject to Kansas insurance laws or regulations. These plans became available for purchase in October 2019, with coverage taking effect at the start of 2020.

Membership in the Kansas Farm Bureau is required in order to apply for the health coverage, but that's available to anyone who signs up and pays the dues (dues are non-refundable, even if the person's subsequent application for the health plan is rejected).


Indiana enacted legislation in 2020 (Senate Bill 184) that allows the Indiana Farm Bureau to sell medically underwritten health coverage that "is not insurance and is not subject to the regulatory authority of the department of insurance."

These plans became available for purchase as of October 2020, with coverage effective starting in 2021. Indiana residents must be Farm Bureau members in order to apply for the health coverage; membership costs $32.50 per year.

South Dakota

South Dakota enacted legislation in 2021 (Senate Bill 87) that allows the South Dakota Farm Bureau to sell medically underwritten health plans that are "not insurance... not provided by an insurance company... not subject to the laws and rules governing insurance, and... not subject to the jurisdiction" of the state's insurance regulators.

South Dakota's Farm Bureau debuted the new health plans in October 2021. Membership in the state's Farm Bureau costs $60/year and is required in order to enroll in the health plan.


Texas enacted legislation in 2021 (House Bill 3924) that allows the Texas Farm Bureau to offer a health plan that is "not provided through an insurance policy." The legislation allows the plan to be medically underwritten and to impose waiting periods for pre-existing conditions. But as of late 2021, the Texas Farm Bureau had not yet debuted the new plans.

Nebraska Short-Term Plans

Nebraska's approach to Farm Bureau coverage is different. Instead of medically underwritten coverage being made available year-round to anyone in the state who joins the Farm Bureau, Nebraska opted for coverage that's guaranteed-issue (i.e., available regardless of medical history) but only during an open enrollment period in the fall and only to people who are actively engaged in agriculture.

Nebraska's Farm Bureau plans initially became available for 2019 as association health plans (AHPs), under the new rules that the Trump administration had issued to provide added flexibility for AHPs. But the rule, which allowed sole proprietors without employees to enroll in AHPs, was soon overturned by a judge.

So for 2020, Nebraska Farm Bureau began partnering with Medica to offer short-term health plans with terms of up to 364 days (short-term plans with terms of up to 364 days are allowed under federal rules that the Trump administration finalized in 2018).

But these plans are quite different from the standard short-term plans that are available in many other states. The coverage is similar in many ways to ACA-compliant coverage. And the plans are only available during an enrollment window that runs from November 1 to December 15.

The coverage is guaranteed-issue (i.e., eligibility does not depend on the applicant's medical history), but people can only enroll if they're actively engaged in agriculture in Nebraska and have been a member of the Nebraska Farm Bureau since at least August of the year they're enrolling.

Ohio and Georgia Self-Funded Plans

In Ohio and Georgia, the Farm Bureaus offer another type of health coverage, designed as an employee welfare benefit plan, available to groups as well as sole proprietors. In both Georgia and Ohio, the plans can cover groups with up to 50 employees.

In both states, enrollees must be members of the Farm Bureau and actively engaged in agriculture-related industries, but there is a broad list of industries that qualify. Ohio's Farm Bureau notes that one out of eight employees in Ohio is in an industry that qualifies. In Georgia, the list of eligible occupations is quite extensive.

Like ACA-compliant small group health plans, the Farm Bureau health plans in Georgia and Ohio have participation requirements and contribution requirements.

At least 75% of eligible employees must participate in the plan or have a valid waiver because they have coverage elsewhere, and the employer must cover at least a certain percentage of the premium cost (25% of the cost of the chosen plan in Ohio, and 50% of the cost of the cheapest available option in Georgia).

And like other group coverage, plans are available to employers year-round, but eligible employees can only sign up during the group's designated open enrollment period (or when they're initially eligible for coverage or experience a qualifying life event).

The Farm Bureau coverage is guaranteed-issue in both Georgia and Ohio, but the premium can be based on the group's overall medical history. The ACA allows large group health insurance to work this way, but ACA-compliant small group health coverage (up to 50 employees in most states) cannot use a group's medical history to determine premiums.

So by using the Farm Bureau plan, a business in Georgia or Ohio with healthy employees can potentially qualify for coverage that's less expensive than an ACA-compliant plan.

Should You Enroll in a Farm Bureau Health Plan?

Your ability to enroll in a Farm Bureau health plan will depend on a variety of factors, including where you live. And if a plan is available in your state, your ability to enroll will depend on your occupation, your medical history, or your employer's choice of health coverage.

If you're in Tennessee, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, or South Dakota, you have the option to join the Farm Bureau by paying the required dues (regardless of whether you're involved in agriculture in any way), and then you can apply for the Farm Bureau's health coverage. But your eligibility for coverage will depend on your medical history.

And you'll want to pay very close attention to the specifics of the policy you're considering: Which of the essential health benefits does it cover, and what restrictions are built into the coverage it does offer?

What's the maximum benefit amount that the plan will pay on your behalf if you need extensive health care? Keep in mind that if you buy an ACA-compliant plan instead, this amount is not capped.

What's the maximum out-of-pocket amount, assuming you need extensive care but not so much that you go over the plan's benefit cap? Keep in mind that if you buy an ACA-compliant plan for 2022, the in-network maximum out-of-pocket won't exceed $8,700 for a single person or $17,400 for a family.

If you're eligible for a premium subsidy in the ACA-compliant market, you'll almost certainly be better off with a plan purchased through the health insurance exchange in your state. The ACA-compliant plan will cover the essential health benefits with no dollar limit on how much the plan will pay, and with an out-of-pocket cap that falls within the allowable range.

And keep in mind that more people are eligible for subsidies as a result of the American Rescue Plan. So a person who hasn't shopped in the marketplace/exchange since the fall of 2020 (or earlier) might be pleasantly surprised to see how much more affordable the options are for 2022.

You can use's plan comparison tool to quickly and anonymously see the available plans in your area and learn how much they'd cost after any applicable premium subsidy is applied (if you're in a state that runs its own exchange instead of using, you'll be directed there when you enter your zip code).

But if you're not eligible for a premium subsidy and cannot afford to pay full-price for an ACA-compliant plan (and also cannot get your income into the subsidy-eligible range by making contributions to a retirement plan or HSA), a Farm Bureau plan will likely be a better option than being uninsured altogether, if that's the other alternative you're considering.

But keep in mind that in the states where medically underwritten Farm Bureau plans are available for purchase year-round by anyone who joins the Farm Bureau, the states do not consider these plans to be health insurance coverage. They have specifically exempted these plans from insurance rules and regulatory oversight. So if you have problems with the coverage at some point, the state department of insurance would not be able to step in on your behalf.


In a handful of states, legislation has been enacted that allows the state Farm Bureau to offer medically underwritten health coverage. These plans are not considered health insurance, and are specifically exempt from state and federal insurance laws.

A Word From Verywell

For healthy people who aren't eligible for subsidies in the ACA-compliant marketplace/exchange, Farm Bureau plans can be less expensive than full-price ACA-compliant coverage.

But buyer beware: These plans are less expensive because they don't have to cover all of the essential health benefits, don't have to cover pre-existing conditions, and can reject applicants based on medical history.

Most people are eligible for subsidies in the marketplace/exchange, especially with the American Rescue Plan's rule changes that continue through at least the end of 2022. So before you enroll in a Farm Bureau plan, be sure to check the available options in the exchange first.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Farm Bureau Financial Services. Health coverage.

  2. Kaiser Family Foundation. Health insurance coverage of the total population 2019.

  3. Keith, Katie. House Passes Build Back Better Act. Journal of Health Affairs. 2021. doi:10.1377/forefront.20211123.122022

  4. Senate Research Center, Texas Legislature Online. Bill Analysis.

  5. The Commonwealth Fund. The Road Not Traveled: How Policy, Business Decisions in Iowa Led to Higher Premiums.

  6. Foundation for Government Accountability. How Tennessee Has Led the Way with Affordable, High-Quality Farm Bureau Health Plans.

  7. The Commonwealth Fund. The Effect of Eliminating the Individual Mandate Penalty and the Role of Behavioral Factors.

  8. Iowa Legislature. Senate File 2349.

  9. Kansas Legislature. House Bill 2209.

  10. Indiana State Legislature. Indiana Senate Bill 184. Public Law 136.

  11. South Dakota State Legislature. Senate Bill 87.

  12. Norris L. Nebraska Health Insurance Marketplace. Medica is offering short-term health coverage to Nebraska Farm Bureau members involved in agriculture. Updated October 28, 2020.

  13. Ohio Farm Bureau. A self-funded medical plan for Ohio Farm Bureau members.

  14. Department of Health and Human Services. Out-of-pocket maximum/limit.

By Louise Norris
 Louise Norris has been a licensed health insurance agent since 2003 after graduating magna cum laude from Colorado State with a BS in psychology.