Ripping the Band-Aid Off the Farmer Healthcare Conversation

Featured in the November issue of our magazine.

By Rachel Peabody

Healthcare affordability is a pressing national problem, but farmers
are particularly feeling the pinch. Deanna Thomas, Manito, Ill., a
farmer growing corn, soybeans and popcorn alongside husband,
Braden, and their two young daughters, pays $1,200 a month for an
insurance plan that still fails to adequately cover medical expenses.
She understands her story is not unique and that, unfortunately,
this harsh reality is status quo for producers who solely work on
the farm.

“Spending $1,200 a month for healthcare is not affordable or
realistic. For that kind of spend, it makes more sense for me to get a
job off-farm where we could get insurance,” says Thomas.
As healthcare premiums continue to rise, more families like
the Thomases will probably consider taking someone out of a
productive, full-time role on the farm.

 

Ripping the bandaid off


FINDING A CURE

Thomas attributes some of the strain to the Health Insurance
Marketplace. Its income-based model is not intuitive for farming.
From year to year, farm income can vary greatly, making it hard to
project where they should land in the marketplace. Project too low
and they could end up in a subsidized healthcare program. Project
too high and double their monthly payment.

“The reality is that producers are less than two percent of the
population, so I understand that our population is not going
to be a priority in the marketplace. But there has to be a better
compromise out there,” says Thomas.

Marketplace is also cumbersome to use and unpredictable, which
certainly aren’t new concerns or even unique to agriculture.
“When we first signed on, we got a great family plan that was
$400 a month and covered everything we needed. Six months
later, we received a 30-day notice that our plan was going away and
that we would need to pick another. I picked a similar plan and our
premium jumped to $1,200 a month,” says Thomas.

It’s clear that Illinois producers need a more affordable healthcare
option, but who will deliver, and how? Thomas believes it is time
for Illinois to start talking about it.

“Recent headlines tell us other states are leaning on ag
organizations to start providing healthcare options to farm
families. Illinois needs a producer-focused program like that,”
she says.

OFF-FARM ANSWERS

“If you want to talk about farmer profitability, healthcare is one
of those items that producers are talking about when we look
at budgets,” says Ross Albert, farm manager for Soy Capital in
Bloomington, Ill. “It’s not uncommon for producers to tell us
they pay in excess of $1,000 for their monthly premium. As the
farming population ages, those costs climb.”

Albert, who’s also a farmer by night and weekend, is an example
of someone pursuing an off-farm career. He states his insurance
plan “is definitely a benefit.”

Albert supports a wife and three children on his healthcare
plan and echoes other producers’ calls for an affordable
healthcare solution.

TAKE ACTION

Can the healthcare crisis be fixed? Is it conceivable for a producer
to have affordable health benefits without being a burden on the
farm balance sheet?

The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) thinks it can be done,
and wants to hear from Illinois producers to keep the conversation
going.

Send thoughts to ilsoy@ilsoy.org.