A Farmer’s Bitter Pill

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Pull up the extra chair in our farm office, and we can share healthy dialogue about trade agreements, land values and the weather forecast for the fall harvest. For a passionately heated earful, ask about health insurance.

Then, I’ll pull up my spreadsheets and show you: The premium for my private health insurance more than doubled from 2014 to 2018. The multiple households of our family farm operation collectively spend tens of thousands of dollars on annual health insurance premiums before deductibles as high as $6,000. And expensive health insurance costs have hampered our farm’s ability to hire quality, young employees who seek low-cost medical coverage in a benefits package.

Farm families swallow health insurance premiums like a bitter pill. A young farm family of four spends more than $14,000 per year in premiums for health insurance that doesn’t meet all their medical needs. A pre-Medicare Illinois farm couple pays $23,000 in annual premiums for a private plan with a $6,000 individual deductible. A healthy farmer in his 20s must come up with nearly $9,000 in combined premiums and deductible before coinsurance kicks in to share costs.

The unmanageable and unsustainable rising cost of health care paralyzes farm families from the young to the most experienced near Medicare age. Employer-provided health insurance forces some spouses to work off the farm, but even then, costs rise for the providing businesses and employee families.

In the end, we farm folk look at how many more bushels per acre we must grow to pay for it or find other income sources. We must have health care coverage. If we don’t, a single tragic illness or injury could jeopardize our lives or the family businesses we’ve built.

Thankfully, fellow Christians told me about the health care sharing ministry, which reduced my healthcare burden by half in 2019. It’s not an approach that works for everyone.

Before this, I faced double-digit annual rate hikes. I purchased health care plans with deductibles as high as $6,450. I saved in a Health Savings Account when eligible. And I shopped around, but now only two carriers offer private coverage in our area and only one with an attractive doctor network.

The frustration resonates on about every farmstead in the state. The health care crisis makes headlines in farm magazines. And finally, some member-based farm organizations, such as the Illinois Farm Bureau, are considering or now offer association health plans. I’m checking into the viability of a new opportunity for our farm as I write this.

I don’t have the know-how to fix the system, but with a nonmedical degree, I can diagnose our health care system as critically ill. Our government needs to make health insurance affordable again for hard-working citizens who want to protect their lives without threatening their livelihoods.

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