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Is There a Doctor in the House? NC Farmers Fall Short on Healthcare

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014   

RALEIGH, N.C. - As North Carolina farmers work to put food on the tables of the state's residents, many are doing so without health insurance or preventive care.

According to the Agromedicine Institute, at least 30 percent of farmers and more than 90 percent of farmworkers do not have health coverage. Francesca Hyatt, Come to the Table director for Rural Advancement Foundation International, said the data points to a cultural practice among farmers.

"They just tend to really be outside of the system," she said, "and so it's been a problem for a long time that farmers have had insufficient access to health care, and farmers will be focusing on everything but their own well-being."

The Affordable Care Act could provide health coverage for some farmers, but because North Carolina did not authorize a Medicaid expansion, Hyatt said many could fall into a coverage gap based on their income and not qualify for help.

Along with a lack of access to medical care, workers in the agricultural industry in North Carolina have a 7 1/2-times greater chance of dying on the job than people in other professions. That figure also is from the Agromedicine Institute, where director Robin Tutor-Marcom noted that it's hard for farmers to make time for medical care, with many of them working during office hours.

"Traditional hours for obtaining medical care are not conducive necessarily to farmers getting care," she said.

Because the system created under the Affordable Care Act involves reporting information to the government, Hyatt said, some farmers may be hesitant to take part.

"Farmers, they tend to be suspicious of enrolling in something through the government," Hyatt said. "So, there's partly, I think, just sort of a cultural barrier, that there's a lot of mistrust about what this is."

Hyatt said it's important to note that the government considers income and not assets for deciding whether a person qualifies for federal assistance in getting health insurance.

The Agromedicine Institute serves all 100 counties in the state and is providing help to farmers as well as people in the fishing and timber industries who want information about the ACA.


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