VPR: Health Insurance Woes Add Another Challenge To The Risky Business Of Farming

Feb 10, 2017

There are many challenges to farming for a living: It’s often grueling work that relies on unpredictable factors such as weather and global market prices. But one aspect that’s often ignored is the cost of health care.

A University of Vermont researcher found that nationally, most farmers cited health care costs as a top concern.

Shoshanah Inwood is a rural sociologist at UVM. She has been studying the aging and shrinking farm population, and what components are needed to build a prosperous farm economy.

Inwood says she hadn’t thought about health care in particular as a factor until she conducted an unrelated survey in 2007 of farmers working the land in areas facing population growth and development pressures.  The survey asked, “What are the issues affecting future of your farm?”

“And we assumed when we got that survey back, we would get things like the cost of land, the cost of inputs, neighbors. The number one issue facing farmers was the cost of health insurance. They identified that as the biggest threat to their farm,” she said.

Inwood says this held true for small and large farms: Two-thirds of commercial farmers cited the cost of health insurance as the biggest threat.

“The number one issue facing farmers was the cost of health insurance. They identified that as the biggest threat to their farm.” — Shoshanah Inwood, UVM rural sociologist

Typically, strategies to build a robust farming industry have focused on access to land, capital and changes to market infrastructure.

“But then you ask people, ‘Well, how many people know a farmer that has an injury? Or a farm family that has a chronic health issue? Or a mental health issue?’ And everybody’s hand goes up,” Inwood said. “And that’s the one issue we really never talk about, are some of those social needs that farm families have.”

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