Wednesday, March 23, 2011

As health reform turns 1, big farm employers worry about providing coverage, now scant

To mark today's anniversary of the health-care reform law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Visack issued a statement lauding the law's benefits for rural people, saying “For too long, rural Americans have been getting the short end of the health-care stick, with limited insurance options, fewer doctors and nurses, and higher out-of-pocket expenses. The health-care law is helping to change that – increasing payments to rural health-care providers, strengthening Medicare and training thousands of new primary care doctors to serve in rural areas.”

But some in rural America have problems with the law. On January 1, 2014, employers with 50 or more full-time workers will be required to offer health insurance to their employees, and that will be a challenge for big farms; only 10 to 15 percent of the 1.6 million agricultural workers in the U.S. have even basic health insurance, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter.

The specialty-crop industry says that creates a significant problem since approximately “70 percent or more of [its workers] are believed to be falsely documented,” reports Agri-Pulse, “largely due to the transitory nature of the workforce, which often migrates from farm to farm and sometimes from state to state, creating administrative headaches for employers.” The industry is lobbying Congress for changes.

The law will also cost employers, most of whom are expected to have employees paying higher insurance premiums and/or co-pays, reports Agri-Pulse, and “For the vast majority of migrant workers, health care coverage may cost more than they are willing to pay.” Cathleen Enright, vice president of federal government affairs at Western Growers Association, which represents about half the nation's produce output, told the newsletter that many seasonal agriculture workers will elect to get cheaper state coverage or no coverage at all, triggering a penalty for employers.

Agri-Pulse is subscription-only, but offers a free four-issue trial subscription.

No comments: