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Study: MN Farmers and Ranchers Racking Up Medical Debt

October 14, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - As a group, Minnesota farmers and ranchers are facing a load of medical debt that has piled up little by little, according to a new report released jointly by The Access Project and the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA). It points out that, even with health insurance, family farmers and ranchers are self-employed, which means their insurance costs more, covers less and includes higher out-of-pocket costs.

Jon Bailey, CFRA's rural policy research director, says the study indicates most of the debts are not the result of catastrophic health care needs, but day-to-day, health-related expenses.

"This shows that one of the main policy issues we really have to address in health care reform is how to limit out-of-pocket costs for all families, so that they aren't driven into bankruptcy or major economic problems within their families."

For example, he says, 60 percent of people surveyed owed medical bills of less than $2000, meaning they're being "nickeled and dimed" into health care debt.

"And when you add it to the rest of the family expenses, it's just sort-of a nagging problem that doesn't go away."

The consequences for farm families are serious, adds Bailey. They include reduced access to health care, as well as such damaging financial tactics as draining their savings, taking out loans and increasing credit card balances in order to pay medical expenses.

The data was gathered through the 2007 Health Insurance Survey of Farm and Ranch Operators, which included more than 2000 family farmers and ranchers in seven states: Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN