The Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives launched the Farmers' Health Cooperative of Wisconsin on Monday with the promise of comprehensive insurance plans at more affordable prices than the private coverage farmers have been receiving on their own.
The announcement means Wisconsin will soon be the first state in the country to have a health care co-op exclusively for those in agriculture.
Under this proposal, farm families and small businesses will be able to buy health insurance in large groups, increasing their buying power and stabilizing insurance rates.
Studies indicate that health care is a top concern facing Wisconsin farm families. As they continue to suffer double digit increases in insurance rates, many decide to work off the farm or leave the farm industry altogether.
Affordable health insurance had long been a goal of the farming community. Almost one-third of farmers in Wisconsin have no insurance or have only catastrophic coverage, with 14% of farmers having no insurance, and just 17% having only catastrophic coverage, according to a survey conducted nearly a year ago by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
The new plan will have individual and family plans with deductibles starting at $300 for a single person up to $5,000 with a Health Savings Account for a family.
"The quality of the insurance plans offered through the cooperative is comparable to those currently available only to larger businesses," says Bill Oemichen, WFC president and CEO. "Members will benefit from a choice of six products, the freedom to choose their own doctors and hospitals, first dollar coverage of preventive care and a comprehensive benefit package most farmers can't access today."
The cooperative is contracting with Aetna, one of the nation's leading diversified health care benefits companies, to underwrite the insurance for cooperative members. Aetna has partnered with Agri-Services Agency, an insurance management company owned by Dairylea Cooperative that currently provides health and workers compensation insurance to 70,000 farmers and agribusinesses across the U.S. ASA will manage the administrative responsibilities of the health insurance purchasing cooperative and considers this one of the cooperative's most valuable assets.
On hand for the ceremony at the state Capitol was Gov. Jim Doyle.
"Hardworking Wisconsin farm families across the state are struggling to afford health care coverage," Doyle says. "These are hardworking families, and they need relief. Today, we're building on our efforts to provide health care for all citizens, and keep our farm families the foundation of strength our state relies on to grow."
The Farm Bureau survey showed that, not surprisingly, farmers who get insurance privately, pay considerably more than those farmers who are able to get insurance coverage from their own or a spouse's off-farm employment.
"The number of farmers who don't have insurance, and those with insurance just to cover catastrophic health events, is a wake-up call for the need to enact reforms so small businesses are able to get affordable, quality health care that covers wellness, and not just catastrophic medical problems," says Tom Thieding, executive director of public relations with the Farm Bureau.
The survey also showed farmers who purchase their own insurance pay 93% more in premiums and other out-of-pocket costs, compared to those who get insurance from off-farm employment. The average out-of-pocket cost for farmers purchasing their own health insurance is $8,826, compared to $4,245 for those obtaining insurance from off-farm sources.
The Farm Bureau survey also found that 64% of farmers who had health insurance purchased it themselves, with 36% obtaining insurance through their own or a spouse's off-farm employment. Farmers who purchased their own insurance had monthly premiums 52% more, and total out-of-pocket costs 183% more, compared to those who get insurance off-farm.
"Farmers want health insurance for their families and employees that they can afford on their own without having to turn to another job to get affordable, quality health care coverage," says Thieding.
Wisconsin Federation of Co-operative directors will hold town hall meetings across the state in March to provide additional information.