Farmers have been closely watching health care debate

Published online: Aug 06, 2017 News
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From doctors' and hospitals' groups to the AARP, the opposition to Republican bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has been widespread. One group of Americans who have been watching the campaign against Obamacare closely: farmers.

In a recent survey led by the University of Vermont, three out of four U.S. farmers and ranchers said health insurance was an important or very important risk management strategy for their businesses. The vast majority—92%—said they had health insurance in 2016. That’s about the same as the general population, at 91%. But insurance plays a special role in farming, one of the most dangerous industries in the country, and one that plays a vital, if often distant, role in every American’s life.

About 100 agricultural workers a day are injured on the job. When Taylor Hutchinson of Footprint Farm in Starkville, Vt., was cutting lumber for the farm’s first greenhouse, she got a piece of pressure-treated wood sawdust in her eye, sending her to the emergency room. Thanks to her Medicaid coverage, she didn’t have to pay out of pocket.

Young farmers such as the 30-year-old Hutchinson, a group that is already precariously small, have benefited from Obamacare in several ways. One out of four farmers and ranchers 18 to 64 years old had bought an insurance plan on a marketplace it created, and 41% of young farm and ranch families (18 to 34 years old) were enrolled in a public insurance program such as Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Many farmers are taking advantage of Medicaid for the first time because the ACA, which greatly expanded the health-care program for the poor and disabled, allowed for a separation of income and assets, helping farmers who are “land-rich and cash-poor.” Under Obamacare, “because salaries from farming are often so low, many farmers were eligible for Medicaid or got subsidized,” said Shoshana Inwood, lead researcher on the survey and an assistant professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont. Not all states participated in the Medicaid expansion, so the benefits haven't been felt equally nationwide.