After years of state and national progress on healthcare access, Governor Kim Reynolds brought back one of the worst features of pre-ACA healthcare: denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. And the company that was chosen to offer up the new plans just so happens to have been a major contributor to the Brandstad/Reynolds ticket for years.
That’s what happened earlier this year when Reynolds signed a bill allowing Wellmark and the Iowa Farm Bureau to sell healthcare plans that don’t actually qualify as “healthcare.” The move was made to offer a cheaper alternative to Iowans who simply couldn’t afford the rising premiums of available healthcare options. But it did so by sidestepping rules the ACA set in place to ensure that everyone in the country had access to care, regardless of any current medical condition or history of conditions.
In effect, the Wellmark/Farm Bureau plan could deny coverage to people who had a history of high blood pressure or cancer. And it would allow them to drop mental health and maternity care if they decided it cost them too much. Other health insurers worried at the time that it would disrupt the entire market by allowing one company to only take on healthy Iowans.
The selection of Wellmark for these plans was an interesting one given their past history of financial support for the Branstad/Reynolds campaigns. The bill that Reynolds signed did not specifically say Wellmark, but it was written in a way that only that company and the Farm Bureau could implement the new plans.
Wellmark’s PAC has contributed over $50,000 to Branstad and Reynolds over the past decade. They gave $23,000 to the ticket in 2010, $5,000 in 2012 and another $30,000 in the 2014 cycle. They sent an additional $1,000 to Reynolds last year after she took over as governor.
Of course, Wellmark is one of those companies that contributes to both sides of the aisle. They’ve given much more to Republicans this cycle, but have also donated to Democrats like Amanda Ragan and Mark Smith. They also gave $20,000 to Chet Culver late in the 2006 election.
But Wellmark’s investment in getting Branstad and Reynolds elected was by far their largest donation since 2010. They haven’t written a check for more than $1,000 for any one politician yet this cycle.
As Reynolds’ record on Iowa healthcare management continues to take center stage in the November election, those big contributions from Wellmark could give the appearance of a pay-to-play given that Wellmark was the only company singled out for the state’s special exemption.
Most healthcare companies probably wouldn’t mind going back to the days where they can choose who they insure; Wellmark got just that with this plan from the Reynolds Administration after investing in her and Branstad’s election.
by Pat Rynard