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At the Farm Gate: Gagging on Health Insurance Premiums Like a Horse Pill

When 2018 begins, the annual premium for my private health insurance plan will have increased by 121 percent in five years.

I have spreadsheets tracking health insurance costs like our farm’s corn yield trends. And, as in corn production, the numbers can tell a story: Our health insurance system is in critical condition with no cure on the horizon. Our government leaders debate to no avail while self-providing citizens who are too young for Medicare hold their noses as they pay their health insurance premiums. We continue to feed money into the dilapidated system because if we don’t, a single illness or injury could jeopardize our lives or the family businesses we’ve built.

We’re gagging on monthly premium payments like a horse pill. Yet, rarely do I catch the mainstream media giving genuine attention to the affordability side of the healthcare debate for hard-working families. I went from shopping among six health insurance companies for a private insurance plan in 2016 to just three in 2017. For 2018, only two carriers offer coverage in my area. Thankfully, both include my general doctor this time, but only one allows the freedom of a PPO, or preferred provider organization plan.

I’ve purchased healthcare plans with deductibles as high as $6,450. I’ve saved in a Health Savings Account when eligible. And my fury reached a climax on Nov. 1, 2016, the opening day of health plan enrollment for 2017. That day I learned that my insurance premium would rise 45 percent for the cheapest, most suitable, Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant plan that I could find. Still, I barely heard mention in the media that this theft of hard-earned income impacted the presidential election one week later. I bet my annual insurance premium it did.

I know a local farming couple who pays enough in premiums to buy a new car outright every year. A Stark County farm family of six was forced to find additional income this year to cover $42,000 for insurance premiums, easily one-third of their income. That information comes from an article in Crain’s Chicago Business, which this fall brought attention to health insurance costs for farmers. A northern Illinois farmer told the newspaper he pays $10,200 per year in premiums for just himself – and then faces a $7,000 deductible when he needs care.

I’ve heard it before: Just work for another employer to obtain health insurance. Keep in mind, those companies face soaring insurance expenses, too. Employers change plans and deductibles to reduce costs. They may absorb some or all of the rising expense, which can keep employees blind to the burden of the total bill. The tunnel we’re in looks pitch-black at the end, and the crisis escalates while we wait for Congress to compromise. It’s time to make health insurance costs bearable again for hard-working, law-abiding citizens who deserve better from their country.

About the author: Joanie Stiers’ family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle in West-Central Illinois.

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