Farmers Claim Cost of Health Insurance Most Serious Threat

You might not realize health care is a critical issue for farmers if you have only been reading the agriculture press headlines this year. Tax reform—especially the estate tax, Waters of the United States (WOTUS), and trade policy remained in the limelight for the duration of Trump’s first year in office.

However, according to a new study published by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, “65% of commercial farmers identified the cost of health insurance as the most serious threat to their farm, more significant than the cost of land, inputs, market conditions, or development pressure.”

With a majority of farmers finding the cost of insurance to be a serious threat to their livelihood, the agriculture industry needs to advocate for more affordable health care for farmers and rural communities.

Between 2015 and 2017, the researchers used case studies from 10 states and collected surveys from 1062 farming households.  Researchers found that about 90% of those involved in the study had health insurance, but the sources of insurance varied widely, even within the same household.

According to the study, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) broadened farming family insurance options since its inception in 2010.  The authors report about one out of five farmers in the study claimed ACA marketplace health insurance allowed them to enroll in health insurance for the first time.

The research included an example of a ranching family with five children who experienced how the ACA improved their access to healthcare. It said, “their three oldest children had never gone to the doctor because they had no health insurance. After the ACA implementation, the two younger children had preventative well-child visits and the family had access to a wider range of health services.”

According to the study, farmers can especially benefit from the ACA because the health care law uses income rather than assets to determine eligibility for Medicaid and market subsidies. As the Agricultural Law Center has pointed out in the past, the economic model for American agriculture incentivizes asset or wealth accumulation and discourages income generation.

The researchers point to a provision in the ACA, which “decouples the family from the assets of the enterprise and addresses the ‘land rich, cash poor’ conundrum farmers often face.”

This study suggests that farmers, like all Americans, continue to struggle with access to affordable health care. Almost three quarters of the participants in the study said they had a desire that the USDA “represent their unique needs in national health insurance policy discussions.” Hopefully those advocating for farmers and rural communities will read this report and pay attention to the findings.