Skyrocketing premiums and high deductibles have taken a big bite out of farm family budgets, but a new report by Farm Futures explains how some of those families are fighting back.

While there is currently no blanket solution for hemorrhaging health care costs, some farm families are finding ways to improve their situation, reports Farm Futures policy editor Jacqui Fatka. Read the full article, “Bleeding out: Is there a cure for high health care costs?” now available on and in the April 2018 issue of Farm Futures.

For Minnesota farmer Matt Krueger, the answer is in a new cooperative that helps farm families lower deductibles and obtain broader coverage, such as vision and dental. Meanwhile Washington farmer Brad Haberman captures $400/month in premium savings with an association plan orchestrated by the Washington Farm Bureau. The Department of Labor is working to tweak the current health care mandate to allow for greater association participation.

The Minnesota-based 40 Square Cooperative and Washington Farm Bureau programs could be replicated in other states, reports Fatka. Skyrocketing premiums have many states looking to these pilots as an opportunity to provide a lifeline to farmers hit with double digit percent insurance cost increases each year.

Costs rising fast

In Farm Futures’ most recent nationwide survey, some 16.1% of farmers say their health insurance premiums were expected to shoot up 20% or more in 2018 than compared to 2017. Another 16.7% say they expected premiums to rise 11% to 20%, while another 26.5% say premiums would rise 5% to 10% in 2018.

According to the survey, the average 56-64 year-old farmer paid nearly $14,000 for family health care (insurance premiums, deductibles, co-payments and other out-of-pocket expenses) in 2017.

“Farmers told us the problem was not just higher premiums; it was fewer choices,” says Fatka, who interviewed 10 sources as she researched the issue. “Although some farmers are finding solutions, this is still a problem weighing down on the farm family budget. To rural areas, the problems of Obamacare are only magnified. But Congress hasn’t decided to solve the issues.”

Additional highlights from the Farm Futures survey:

  • Some 46% of respondents said they would be interested in buying health insurance through a pool offered by a commodity group or other association. Among those ages 35 and under, the number rose to 64%.
  • When asked how the Affordable Care Act affected their health insurance, 68.1% said premiums went up, while 15.6% said their policy was cancelled by their insurer. One respondent said they were “forced into insurance policy that did not include my local doctor and hospital.” Said another: “The deductibles skyrocketed. (I) no longer have an HSA, I lost my doctors and now need referrals. Premiums and deductibles are now $50,000 a year; simply a mess that I can’t afford.”
  • One fifth said they rely on a spouse’s off-farm job for health insurance; another 10% said they had their own off-farm job with health benefits.
  • About 57% of the farmers surveyed said they had employees; on average, the farm owners covered 91% of employee health care costs.
  • A fourth of those surveyed had Medicare/Medicaid/VA/Military coverage, while 19% had a high deductible policy with no health savings account; 15% had PPO or traditional fee for service policy, while 13% relied on a health savings account. Another 8% of respondents had an HMO, while 3% listed no health insurance coverage at all.

Farm Futures surveyed 924 growers from Dec. 4 to Jan. 4. Growers were invited by email to complete a survey form online.