High gas prices, a sputtering economy, global food shortages the obesity epidemic and countless other apocryphal trends make the headlines and have spurred interest in locally grown goods, farmers markets and “Slow Food” (I’m still trying to figure out what the heck that is.)
I really love food. I love the farmers’ market. I plan my weeks and weekends around the farmers market. I feel really fancy, wholesome and healthy buying my food directly from the Hmong and Latino farmers, and I prefer the taste of farmers’ market food to Safeway (sorry, Steve Burd.) But the small family farmers who are raising goats, planting tomatoes and picking cherries are doing this at risk to their own financial well being and health. The Boston-based Access Project recently published a paper about the health care burdens that California’s farmers face.
Farmers tend to be wealthier than the average citizen and are more likely to be insured. On average, they spent nearly $9,000 annually on premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, which constitutes between 9 and 44 percent of the family’s income. High health care expenses:
- Made it hard for farmers to pay other bills;
- Meant farmers delayed investments in their farm;
- Took time off farming/ranching.
According to the report author, Carol Pryor, “The survey shows that most farmers and ranchers are trying to do the right thing by getting coverage, but they aren’t finding products in the (individual) market that are affordable and that provide them with financial protection if they get sick. This is a case of product failure.”
If not for moral reasons, wouldn’t the like-minded food obsessed want to keep our farmers healthy?
I’ll do a quick shameless plug for a few of our bills here that would start us down the track of easing health care burdens for farmers:
- SB 1522 (Steinberg) would organize the individual insurance market, where family farmers need to buy their coverage, and establish a minimum benefit package that includes doctors visits, hospitals and preventive care;
- AB 2967 (Lieber) woudl require insurers and healthcare providers to provide better data on the cost and quality of care, and create pressure to drive down rapidly escalating health care costs;
- SB 973 (Simitian) would create a public insurer that would enable farmers to buy in to a system that is publicly run and competes with private insurers;
- Rescission bills (AB 1945, AB 1150, AB 2549 and AB 2569) rein in the insidious insurer practice of retroactively cancelling coverage of people who have been paying premiums and believed they were covered.