Cooperative Health Care Plan for Farmers Unveiled at Capitol

By: Dana Brueck Email
By: Dana Brueck Email

A new cooperative aims to give Wisconsin farmers more affordable health care.

Lawmakers unveiled the plan, years in the making, today at the State Capitol. Supporters say health care is a number one issue for producers. A local farmer says he's encouraged but questions whether it will cover him.

"We're a 4th generation farm here. My brother Tom and I have been farming together since 1973," Pat O'Brien says.

O'Brien runs a 250-cow dairy farm in Fitchburg. He's farmer with health insurance but says it's expensive.

"Probably, the majority who do have coverage, the wife is working off of the farm. My wife does not and we're paying for our health insurance out of pocket," he says.

A new health care plan aims to take less out of the pockets of Wisconsin producers.

"If we go back to just 2002-2003, when dairy prices were almost at a record low, farmers of Wisconsin, still by a factor of 4-to-1, said health care was a much bigger issue for them than low dairy prices were at that time," Bill Oemichen of Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives says.

Supporters of the Farmers' Health Cooperative unveiled the plan at the State Capitol, saying 18 percent of farmers in Wisconsin lack coverage.

"Forty-one percent cannot afford to have health insurance for every member of the family so they end up having to pick and choose who's going to have insurance," Oemichen says.

Farmers' Health Cooperative has contracted with Aetna to offer six different plans with deductibles ranging from $300 to $5,000.

Farmers will own and operate the cooperative, which is designed to lower the cost for members by buying insurance as a group.

O'Brien already buys a group plan for his family and pays half of the cost for a small number of employees, but he says the cost has nearly tripled the last several years.

"We've been promised for years that there'd be a plan for farmers and independent business owners, and it looks like it might be here," he says, "we'll have to wait and see what the particulars are about it.”

About $4.5 million dollars in federal funding helped get this plan in place.

It will come out in March with town meetings to give people information, and coverage will begin on April 1.

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