Like track runners, farmers and ranchers in Kansas face several hurdles. Whether it’s unpredictable and unfavorable weather, a volatile market that causes commodity prices to fluctuate or correcting misconceptions about agriculture, farmers hurdle many things.
Yet, hurdle after hurdle, farmers and ranchers run the race because they love what they do. They chose it. They want their operation to continue so the next generation can carry on the tradition. For this to happen, our food and fiber producers need to stay healthy.
A recent national survey shows 65 percent of farm and ranch families believe access to affordable health care options is the number one threat to the success of their operation. In the past five years, net farm income has declined by nearly 50 percent, while health insurance costs have spiraled upward. In Kansas, Farm Bureau members report health coverage costs as the most significant expense in their family budget, at times representing 30 to 40 percent of annual expenses. That is a hurdle nearly impossible for farmers to overcome.
Sherman County farmer Tim Franklin has felt the struggle of finding workable and affordable health care. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) altered the definition of sole-proprietorship, it resulted in their health coverage carrier canceling their group coverage.
“The logic was that we didn’t qualify for the group plan because we didn’t have employees,” the Goodland farmer says. “My parents are involved in our farm but operate separately and we don’t have nonfamily employees that would qualify us to form a new group.”
The family went to the marketplace for coverage and was hopeful to qualify for subsidies, but never received help. Their health care costs continue to increase while their coverages weaken. Between 2010 and 2018, premiums for individuals increased by 176 percent for ACA plans. The cost to cover a family jumped by 216 percent.
In order to advocate on behalf of farmers like the Franklin family, Kansas Farm Bureau introduced Senate Bill 32, which will authorize it to offer members health care benefit coverage.
This legislation is designed for Kansans who don’t have access to a group insurance plan and make too much to qualify for subsidies under the ACA. Typically, these Kansans are spending a fortune for their own individual coverage or are uninsured. It’s another option provided to cover more lives in Kansas.
Kansas Farm Bureau will offer individually rated plans at a significant savings to similar coverage under the ACA. This new option will allow Kansans to choose health coverage that’s best for them. Some may not receive health benefit coverage, while others may have waiting periods for previous diagnoses. In those cases, plans offered through the ACA are still available to them.
Once members are accepted, and they continue to pay their KFB membership and premiums they will not be denied coverage. The health care benefit coverage plans have no annual or lifetime limits. The benefits may include office visits, hospitalization, preventative care services, emergency room services, maternity care, prescription drug benefits, mental health and substance abuse, and dental and vision coverage. Members can decide what level of coverage they’re comfortable with.
Opponents to the measure, the same large companies that have dictated health policy in Kansas for years don’t like this. They want to maintain the status quo so they can continue to control the marketplace and lock in their profits. Kansas Farm Bureau believes there is a better way, build on a free market with a goal of serving members.
For Atchison County farmer Mindy Young, affordable health care has meant a smaller farm because her husband has a job in town mainly for its health coverage.
“The big thing holding us back right now is time,” she says. “With his full-time job, he has a hard time finding time to commit to growing the farm.”
Farm and ranch families and small business owners face uncertain economic times, making their ability to purchase health coverage for their families difficult, resulting in more uncovered lives in Kansas and struggling health systems in rural communities. Kansas Farm Bureau’s proposal creates competition and free-market options for health coverage, supports rural hospitals and providers, and keeps families on the farm.