Navigating Health Insurance

Featured in the November issue of our magazine.

Discussion with HirednAg Project Director Shoshanah Inwood

WHAT IS HIREDNAG?

HIREDnAg is a USDA-funded project and the first to attempt to understand farmer and rancher health insurance navigation. Our team is made up of research and Extension professionals committed to understanding how health insurance decisions impact farm and ranch families, and using that information to develop educational tools to support a healthy agricultural sector.

I believe we need a vibrant ag economy, and adequate health insurance is a big part of that. Farm business plans typically don’t mention health insurance or how healthcare costs affect the farm. As we face federal and state changes in health insurance, we are capturing those experiences and taking them back to USDA and state officials for additional action.

WHAT ARE THE KEY FINDINGS FROM YOUR RESEARCH?

I had never heard farm families cry over the phone until we began to look into health insurance. Farmers don’t often get asked about their thoughts on having access to healthcare and coverage.

The number one finding from our survey is that health insurance is part of risk management. Farmers need to explore how it fits into their operation and have honest conversations with family members about whether they will have to sell assets for long-term care. It is possible the next generation will have to pay much higher land costs because of healthcare issues.

Second, is the serious impact on young farmers and the importance of obtaining insurance that is affordable. Young farmers are clear that healthcare for their children a priority anthat affects the decisions they make about their business. We don’t want farmers to have to lose their farms if something happens to them and they do not have health insurance to manage costs.

Finally, from a rural development perspective, agriculture is a big part of rural communities. Often the best off-farm jobs are in health care, education and the government sectors. There can be huge impacts to farm families and rural economies when there are cutbacks and changes to benefits in the public sector. When we see rural hospital closures, we lose good-paying healthcare jobs and communities are at a disadvantage for attracting new employers.

HOW CAN FARMERS USE THE INFORMATION YOU HAVE DEVELOPED TO MAKE INSURANCE CHOICES?

I encourage farmers to visit the website and first review our tools and resources section. Two videos on the site can be viewed by families for discussion. The Smart Choice and Smart Use Health Insurance resources provide a workbook to review with family members regarding cost, coverage and any upcoming healthcare changes and to compare plans. The resources were put together by University of Maryland and University Delaware Extension specialists.

WHAT SHOULD FARMERS IN GENERAL DO TO MAKE THE BEST HEALTH INSURANCE CHOICES?

Open enrollment is underway, and no matter what plan farmers are covered under, now is a good time to consider how health insurance and coverage will fit into their budgets and farm businesses. The Smart Choice and Smart Use documents provide worksheets for determining costs for various health coverage options and how they fit into monthly spending.

WHAT ARE NEXT STEPS FOR HIREDNAG?

We surveyed farmers and ranchers in 10 states and plan to re-survey them to hear about their experiences during the last two years. We are not officially surveying farmers in Illinois, but want to hear from anyone who wants to discuss. Farmers can contact me at inwood.2@osu.edu.

Shoshanah Inwood, Ph.D., is a rural sociologist, assistant professor at Ohio State University and project director for HIREDnAg. Her work centers on creating economic development through food and agriculture and supporting the next generation of farmers in light of an aging and shrinking farm population. Visit https://www.hirednag.net/ for more information.