Rural US needs bipartisan health care solutions

By Gary Wertish

Minnesota Farmers Union President

At one of Minnesota Farmers Union’s (MFU) Rural Issues Discussions last spring, a farmer told us that his yearly health insurance premium plus deductible was more than $40,000. There was hardly a dry eye in the room when he spoke about this.

Meanwhile, federal legislators have been unable to agree on a health care solution that works for everyone. They have been playing the politics of “repeal and replace” on the Affordable Care Act, while farmers, rural residents and others on individual health insurance plans suffer under the burden of high costs.

ACA isn’t perfect. Many farmers, young and old, have told us the cost makes it difficult to keep farming full-time without seeking employment elsewhere for the insurance benefits. The depressed farm economy may even leave some choosing not to have health insurance at all. It’s time for legislators to stop playing politics with our health care and come to a bipartisan solution that will end up with more people having insurance, not fewer, especially in rural areas.

Amending ACA to become a comprehensive single-payer health plan would make things much easier for rural citizens. MFU supports a plan that enables all people to be fully participating members of medical, mental, dental, hospitalization, alternative and nursing home care plans. This would ensure that every person can get the health insurance they need, when they need it.

At the state level, we have an opportunity for progress with MinnesotaCare. It’s already helped several Minnesota farmers, including Stearns County Farmers Union President Mike Orbeck. He told reporter Don Davis during Farmfest that he discovered MinnesotaCare on the MNsure website, after his deductible on his previous individual policy got too expensive. Now he pays a price he can afford.

MinnesotaCare is available for those who cannot afford an individual market insurance policy, but who also make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. We want to see it strengthened and expanded to include a buy-in option, so more people will have access to it.

Another option we’ve seen play out in neighboring Wisconsin is a farmer’s health care cooperative. Legislation was passed in Minnesota in the recent session that includes language that allows farmers and agribusinesses to work with providers to establish cooperative health plans. Farmers work with the co-op model in many other instances, so it is worth trying it with health care.

Mike Orbeck is lucky to have found an option that works for him. But the uncertainty he felt is shared among countless farmers and rural residents on the individual health insurance market. The rhetorical debate playing out in the U.S. House and Senate leaves people everywhere unsure of what their insurance is going to look like. We want to see more cooperation among legislators about an issue that’s critical to the country and take action to reform ACA. As our members and staff travel to Washington, D.C., for the 2017 National Farmers Union Legislative Fly-in, a health care model that serves rural residents better is one of MFU’s top priorities.

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