Jan. 12th, 2009

chelidon: (Tractor Caution)
This interesting article intrigued me because, while oriented towards farming and agribusiness, it points out how the current state of health insurance in the U.S. is highly biased towards big business, not just for farmers and farms, but for business across the board. In essence and fact, this heavily penalizes anyone who chooses a non-mainstream job by forcing them to spend a huge proportion of their income on health insurance, or alternately, bankrupting them if they do not pour their money into insurance, and then have the bad (inevitable, rather) fortune to ever get sick or injured.

Of course I knew this well, having made my living as a small business owner, writer, journalist and consultant for at least half of my career, and darn glad throughout for a partner who had a "mainstream" job with benefits that I could piggyback onto for most of that time. I know people who have gotten married for health insurance, I know people who retired with more than enough to live on, who nevertheless ended up having to work after retirement at a low-wage job specifically to get insurance coverage.

Full article below -- some good questions, and perhaps an eye-opener for anyone who's spent their life in a "mainstream" job or career -- that is, one with healthcare benefits included.

by Ezra Klein
link: http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/ezraklein_archive?month=01&year=2009&base_name=why_dont_we_want_people_to_far

In a policy paper almost custom-designed to catch this blog's eye, the Access Project has released an issue brief on the intersection of farming and health care coverage. And the news isn't good. Health policy types tend to assume a household is experiencing financial hardship from medical costs if they spend more than 10 percent of their income on health care. That's true for 54 percent of folks who report their primary occupation as farming or ranching. Add in part-time farmers (which is common given that farming is often seasonal) and it's 44 percent. That's high. And high is bad.

Small farmers get their health insurance on the individual market. They are not protected by an employer's bargaining power. They do not get to deduct their insurance costs, as employers do. And the individual market is bad, pricey place to get your health insurance. The median amount that farmers on the individual market get paid out-of-pocket for health insurance was $11,200. Those who got their insurance from an employer paid $5,600 out of pocket (they of course paid more out of potential wages redirected to health care, but that's a different sort of burden).

So why does this matter? As Steph Larsen, a rural policy organizer for the Center for Rural Affairs observes, when you're talking about building a more environmentally sustainable, local food production system, you're talking about having a lot of farms. As Larsen puts it, that requires small-scale farming to be not only environmentally sustainable, but economically viable. Small-scale farming is hard to make a living at and harder to make a regular living at. Crop prices go up and down. Droughts descend. Tastes change. Subsidies shift. If you can't keep your health care amidst these fluctuations, you can't keep farming. It's irresponsible. And so many don't. As Larsen concludes, health reform is an important part of farm policy not only for the farmer who needs health care, but the office worker who'd like to farm. In this, it's much like the rest of health care policy.

The fact that our health system specifically advantages stable jobs at large employers reduces entrepreneurship in all forms. Fewer people can start small businesses, move home to take over their family farm, or spend a couple years trying to make it as a rock band. Economic creativity is reduced across the board. Scraping by on low wages for a few years is one thing. Going without health care, particularly if you're older or have a family, is rather another. It's as true for the young innovator who wants to leave Bell Labs* and start his own company as for the tired office worker who'd prefer to return to Nebraska and reinvigorate the farm he grew up on. We have decided to discourage them as a matter of national policy. We have decided to make it easier for ConAgra and harder for family farms. The question is why.


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