Monday, September 29, 2008

Survey reveals health costs for Plains farmers

The Access Project has released a survey outlining the pressing health issues facing rural communities, putting particular emphasis on high insurance costs that continue to cripple family finances.

Begun as a collaboration between the Kansas Farmers Union, the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health and Brandeis University, The Access Project (TAP) serves as a local resource for local communities seeking to improve health and influence health policy. In 2007, TAP was responsible for the Health Insurance Survey of Farm and Ranch Operators, which collected data from non-corporate farms and ranches in seven states: Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The survey found that some families 40 percent of their income on health care and insurance. "Surprisingly, those who earned less than $20,000 were less likely to report financial hardship than those with incomes between $40,000 and $99,999," the report says. Of the 2,017 respondents, 90 percent said all members of their households had been continuously insured in the previous year and still faced financial hardships while trying to cover health expenses, negating the common claim that only the uninsured face extreme medical debt.

TAP argues that the cost of health insurance is heavily influenced by the way people obtain it. Individual, non-group market insurance purchasers, 36 percent of the respondents, "were at a much greater risk of spending more than 10 percent of income on health care relative to those who obtained insurance through government-sponsored programs or employment." The median amount spent on premiums and out-of-pocket costs was $11,200 for individual, non-group market insurance, $5,600 for insurance through off-farm and ranch employment and $3,600 for government-sponsored insurance. "This is significant because family farmers and ranchers are more likely purchase insurance on the individual market than the U.S. population overall." The average annual amount spent on health care costs by farm and ranch families was $7,246 in 2007. (Read more)

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