Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

40 Square stuck in limbo

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 03/05/2013 10:00 AM

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ST. PAUL – After years of silence regarding 40 Square Cooperative Solutions, Cooperative Network is calling for a grassroots effort of support.

40 Square Cooperative Solutions is a joint effort of Cooperative Network, a cooperative trade association for Minnesota and Wisconsin cooperatives, United Farmers Cooperative of Winthrop and AgStar Financial Services, based in Mankato. The three cooperatives united to work on the issues of health care access, choice and cost for those in agriculture.

The trio have been attempting to establish a health care cooperative for agricultural producers in Minnesota for more than five years. The same concept has been up and running in Wisconsin for six years.

In 2007, the state Legislature authorized a pilot project for the agricultural cooperative health plan. Additional legislation was passed in 2010 and an application was submitted to the Commerce Department in October 2010, said Char Vrieze, Cooperative Network health care coordinator.

The Commerce Department's first request was for an actuarial study. That was completed and to the department in December 2011.

There's been a continuous back-and-forth since. Each time they submit more information, a new 60-day response period begins.

It's been more questions and zero answers, Vrieze said. Their last response to the Commerce Department was Oct. 24 and they haven't heard anything since.

They've heard that the Commerce Department is telling legislators they don't even have an application on file, she said.

This has been going on through two administrations and two political parties.

Vrieze said they would like to be part of the health care exchanges that Minnesota plans to launch in October, but at this point they are not able to participate because they aren't licensed by the state. That train is moving rapidly, Vrieze said. They need to know where they stand.

That's why they are breaking their silence. After years of keeping quiet and trying to work through the regulatory process, they are asking farmers to talk about the importance of a health care choice for them and their families. They are asking them to talk their lawmakers and others who may be able to intercede on their behalf.

Vrieze said people should call her at 651-209-8895 for more information on 40 Square. Their goal, she said, is to get licensed. She'd be ecstatic if 40 Square became part of the state's health care exchanges.

Agri News received this statement from the Commerce Department: "40 Square first filed an application with the previous administration at the Commerce Department in October 2010. At that time the application was deemed noncompliant with statutory requirements. Since then, the Commerce Department has continued to meet and discuss the issues that remain a barrier to statutory compliance, specifically to protect consumers from risk. The department remains committed to 40 Square and recognizes that the nonprofit, member-controlled model is one that has served Minnesota well previously. The insurance division continues to work with 40 Square to answer any further questions that may arise during the application process."