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Study: Health insurance costs skyrocket for farmers

Agriculture.com Staff 09/17/2008 @ 12:34pm

Health care costs are adding even more financial risk to an already risky business these days.

Health insurance coverage is coming at an increasingly higher cost, according to the results of a study released this week. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a health care watchdog group, and The Access Project, a health care community outreach group, released the results of its 2007 Health Insurance Survey of Farm and Ranch Operators Tuesday.

The good news: Around 90% of farmers have health insurance. The bad news: Almost one in four surveyed said their insurance premiums and other costs associated with health insurance are "causing financial difficulties for themselves and their families." Of the latter group, group, farmers surveyed indicate their families spend, on average, 42% of their income on health care coverage.

"Farmers and ranchers, like millions of small business owners, face serious obstacles paying for health coverage that is both comprehensive and affordable. This study can help policy-makers think about this as they consider health reform," says RWJF CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. "The rising cost of health care is affecting everyone, whether insured or not. Many people have policies with premiums and co-pays that are so high that important, preventive care is unaffordable to them. That can create difficult trade-offs between caring for your health and stabilizing your finances."

In all, four out of 10 of those farmers surveyed said they spend at least 10% of their income on health care expenses, and 65% say they've had to "dip into family savings" to pay these bills. The hardest-hit are those farm families without off-farm income, where group-rate health insurance aren't available. The survey indicates those families -- 36% of the total survey pool -- often pay more twice what they would on the open market.

"Nationally, only eight percent of Americans obtain their health insurance this way," according to an RWJF report.

The survey was conducted with more than 2,000 "noncorporate farm and ranch operators" in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Health care costs are adding even more financial risk to an already risky business these days.

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