Wednesday, November 25, 2009

National Farmers Union backs Senate health bill, focuses on Arkansas, Nebraska and Maine

The National Farmers Union, which represents about 250,000 households, endorsed the Senate health-care reform bill yesterday and "stressed the importance of major health care legislation to agricultural workers in Arkansas, Maine and Nebraska. Those states, of course, were carefully chosen," reports David Herszenhorn of The New York Times.

Herszenhorn notes that Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., has threatened to oppose the bill "if big changes are not made," especially over the "public option that would compete with private insurers. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has said likewise, and "has also suggested that the bill is too expensive, and that it should focus more immediately on controlling the rise of health care costs for everyone rather than on expanding health benefits to the more than 30 million citizens currently uninsured."

Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe "are viewed as the most likely members of their party to potentially support the bill. But both of them voted against starting debate of the bill, and they have said that the legislation would have to be rewritten substantially to win their support," Herszenhorn writes.

Members from the three states joined NFU President Roger Johnson in a conference call with reporters. "He and others cited statistics showing that while the vast majority of American farmers have health insurance, it tends to be much more expensive for them and provide less comprehensive coverage," the Times reports. "About one-third of farmers and rural Americans buy their own individual and family policies compared to about 8 percent of the nation as a whole, they said."

Herszenhorn notes that the much larger American Farm Bureau Federation "has raised serious concerns about the bill" and opposes the public option and a provision in the House version that "would require most employers to provide insurance to their workers." (Read more) The House bill would exempt employers of fewer than 25 and an annual payroll of no more than $500,000. The Senate bill would require an employer that doesn’t offer coverage to pay a fee for every full-time employee if any of its employees qualified for a tax credit to buy health insurance. For comparisons from the Kaiser Family Foundation, click here.

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