MILWAUKEE, March 10 (UPI) -- Farmers rely more on individual private health insurance plans than most so many were a tractor or truck accident away from bankruptcy, a U.S. expert says.
Heidi Johnson, Dane County University of Wisconsin-Extension crops and soils educator, said farming is a risky occupation, so most farm families need to have health insurance. Often one parent would work at a factory so the family would be covered by employer-provided health insurance.
However, as factories shut down or moved, farm families, as small business owners, would have to buy individual health insurance plans for themselves and sometimes for employees. Often all they could afford was high-deductible insurance plans and health savings accounts, which left them without routine care or medical checkups because of the cost, Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Now, under the Affordable Care Act, Johnson said, there are no more exclusions for pre-existing condition, no cancellations when someone gets sick and no more lifetime or annual maximum payouts. Children can stay on their parents' plan until age 26, she said.
"Another benefit is that professions are not taken into account when determining premiums, so maybe farmers won't be penalized because they are in one of the riskiest businesses," Johnson told the Journal Sentinel. Lawyers, accountants and farmers all pay the same premiums if they have similar incomes.
However, the cost of health insurance, when buying it through the new online health insurance marketplace, is based on annual adjusted income -- something that might be hard for farmers to estimate.
"It can be difficult to guess," Johnson said. "If you overestimate, you will get a reduced subsidy. The subsidy will be a credit. If you underestimate, they will ask for more money back."
During a workshop on the Affordable Care Act, sponsored by Landmark Services Cooperative, Johnson said there are tax credits available to small businesses and farms offering health insurance -- based on the number of employees and how much they make a year.
"When you do this, you must use the Small Business Health Option Program, but it is not up and running yet, so right now you will need to go through an insurance broker," Johnson told the Journal Sentinel.
Johnson suggested using the small business tax calculator -- at healthcoverageguide.org -- to help make these decisions.
The Smart Choices workbook at extension.umd.edu/insure can help families calculate their healthcare needs annually and choose a healthcare plan that works best for their family's budget, Johnson said.