Health care debate must include us farmers

Farmers often depend on off-farm jobs to provide health insurance, if we can find them. But this takes us away from our calling. And anyway, those jobs are vanishing, and those that remain are cutting their health care benefits.

Oh, we can try to find individual coverage, but the price is exorbitant, with extremely high deductibles.

Farmers have few options for health insurance, yet we desperately need comprehensive coverage. Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in America: heavy machinery, large animals, long hours in the sun and exposure to hazardous pesticides can all take their toll.

Many of us have pre-existing conditions and we are nearing an average age of 58 years.

Rural residents are twice as likely to be uninsured as urban Americans while farmers and ranchers are four times as likely to be underinsured, notes the Center for Rural Affairs.

Members of Congress are expending plenty of energy but have little of substance to show for it.

House Democrats exulted over their 1,018-page health care reform bill. “It is really historic. It’s transformation. It’s momentous,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The best part of the bill is an amendment by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, that would allow states to experiment with their own single-payer health care plans without being penalized by the federal government for doing so.

But that’s not likely to fly in the Senate.

There, single payer is a nonstarter, probably even at the experimental state level.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., says single-payer health care “is off the table.” It is especially galling that Baucus, from such a rural state, one that would benefit most from a single-payer plan, is opposed to any discussion.

It’s also distressing that President Obama has distanced himself from single payer as fast as he could, even though a February CNN poll showed 72 percent favored a government-controlled plan. Any issue with that much across-the-board support should be “on the table.”

The insurance companies, in hopes of killing single payer, say they are willing to cover those with “pre-existing conditions” — provided everyone buys their health insurance.

They’re licking their chops at signing up another 46 million people, under orders of the government. Of course, they could still deny payment of claims; they’re very good at that.

Still, they say, “Trust us.”

Trust an industry that employs an army of claims deniers and other administrative personnel whose numbers have grown 25 times faster than the number of physicians in the United States over the past 30 years?

Despite the House action, we are no closer to health care reform today.

The Senate may strip the public option from the bill.

Without a public option, much less without single payer, farmers and the self-employed would be, at best, underinsured — or fined for not having private insurance.

Some Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability to administer a public health insurance plan. But it’s been doing a pretty good job with Medicare and Medicaid.

Just ask an elderly person. Or someone with a disability.

We can’t keep falling for that same old line from the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry. They peddle it for a reason: It keeps them rolling in profits — and keeps us at their mercy.

There are roughly 46 million uninsured and 25 million underinsured in America, many of whom are farmers.

We know when we’re being swindled.

And we’re being swindled right now.

Jim Goodman is a farmer from Wonewoc, Wis., and a WK Kellogg/IATP Food and Society Policy Fellow. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.