Tuesday, December 24, 2013

High deductibles and little free time mean Wisconsin dairy farmers rely on home visits for health care

Federal health reform was designed to make sure every American has a chance to get affordable health insurance. But for some farmers with high deductibles, and with much work to be done around the farm, the long trip to the doctor seems like a waste of time and money. That's why some farmers in Wisconsin are bypassing doctor visits and opting to stick with the Rural Health Initiative, which "sends a nurse to farms to check farmers’ blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels and screen them for health risks," The Associated Press reports. "Farmers with signs of serious problems are referred to a doctor or clinic." (AP photo by M.L. Johnson: Nurse Dawn Dingeldein checks the blood pressure of dairy farmer Jay Vomastic)

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 36 percent of U.S. dairy farmers lacked health insurance in 2011, compared to 9 percent of all farmers, the AP writes. Wisconsin dairy farmer Jay Vomastic told the AP, “I would say most farmers, in general, if it’s not a lost limb or something crushed, they’re probably not going to go to the doctor. If you’ve got a virus, it’s going to wear off.”

Most dairy farms in Shawano County, in the central part of the state, "are generations-old and small enough to be run by a family, perhaps with one or two workers," AP reports. "Farmers can easily spend eight hours or more on their feet, but increased mechanization has made them less active than previous generations. Add to that a diet traditionally heavy in milk, cheese and beef, which presents cholesterol and other risks. The initiative started in 2004 after health care workers and residents realized many farmers received no medical care until they turned up in emergency rooms. The tight-knit community, where farmers are active in schools, local government and state politics, formed a focus group."

That led a group of farmers' wives to start the initiative. Rhonda Strebel, the nurse who launched the program and now serves as its executive director, told the AP, “The vet comes to the farm. The milk man picks up delivery at the farm. The feed comes to the farm. Why should we make them change that?” (Read more)

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