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NFU joins state farm, faith and rural organizations in support of health care reform



On Dec. 10, National Farmers Union, rural residents, and doctors joined with Nebraska farm, faith and rural organizations on a tele-conference asking Congress to pass health care reform. An emphasis was placed on the acute problems farmers and rural Americans face in accessing affordable, quality health insurance. Increasing prices for premiums and a lack of competition in the health insurance market is threatening many farmers' and ranchers' livelihoods as they face medical bankruptcies or are forced to seek other work to gain insurance.

"Farmers often have to purchase insurance for themselves and their families in the individual market where premiums are higher and they are subjected to the possibility of being dropped from coverage or face pre-existing condition exclusion," said Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President. "Farmers also tend to be older and are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions, and private insurers consider them to be in a high risk profession, leading to higher health care costs."

The Senate bill offers significant help in addressing the issues faced by rural communities. Provisions included in the bill aim to control health care costs for the self-employed farmers, ranchers and small businesses that dominate rural economies.

"The result in Nebraska is that family farms and the rural way of life are under threat as premiums skyrocket and more farmers face medical bankruptcies or are forced out of their family business to seek employment that offers health benefits," said John Hansen, President of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

In addition, the bill includes investments in the health care workforce and incentives for primary care physicians to serve rural areas, prevents insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, gender or health status, reforms the Medicare reimbursement system to provide better quality care for seniors, expands tele-medicine services for rural access to specialized care, and expands drug discount programs so rural health facilities can access medicine at lower costs. Individual, small-group, and geographic rating reforms will make coverage better and policies cheaper for farmers, their families and their employees.

Dr. Merlin Friesen, a Nebraska Farmers Union member and an ER physician from Filley added, "When I treat patients in the emergency room who do not have health insurance coverage, those costs are passed along to those of us with health insurance in the form of higher premiums. Many patients put off seeing a doctor altogether and suffer from preventable or manageable diseases, forcing them to eventually seek emergency medical care, driving up health care costs for both customers and providers. This bill will meaningfully reduce the number of uninsured and provide subsidies to make coverage more affordable with a focus on prevention and primary care."

Keith Dittrich with the American Corn Growers Association said, "The Senate bill offers significant help in addressing the issues faced by rural communities. Provisions included in the bill aim to control health care costs for the self-employed farmers, ranchers and small businesses that dominate rural economies and will make our agriculture more competitive."

Connie Benjamin, Executive Director of Nebraska AARP, said, "Older Americans need and deserve quality affordable coverage. This Senate bill strengthens Medicare--the backbone of our health care system for our older citizens."

"Too many farmers face the possibility of losing their farms if they get sick," said Jim Knopik, a farmer from Belgrade. "With health care reform, the exchange and consumer protections will ensure comprehensive and affordable policies. Families could save $1,100 a year on premiums and pay less in out-of-pocket costs."

Rhea Landholm, who works for a newspaper in Creighton, said, "The cost of premiums for small business is too high and going higher. My publisher can't afford coverage. I have to buy it on my own, and it's very expensive and not very good. An exchange will allow small businesses to shop around and the small business tax credits in this bill will make coverage more affordable."

Dr. Amanda Renshaw McKinney has a rural Beatrice, Nebraska OB/GYN practice that serves many uninsured or underinsured Nebraskans. Her everyday experiences with the rural health care delivery system highlight the need for reform. "Too many of my patients can't afford insurance. Recently a patient of age 60 was diagnosed with cancer and is without insurance and waiting for Medicare. How is she going to afford treatment? "Dr. McKinney asked.

Reverend Chuck Bentjen, Justice and Advocacy Ministries Director, ELCA Nebraska, said, "Rural folks have always looked after each other. Taking care of the sick is a moral imperative. Right now, our health care system creates untoward suffering in our communities. We can only do so much. We need a health care system that works for all Americans."

NFU has long called for a comprehensive, meaningful health care reform bill that provides universal, affordable and accessible coverage for all Americans, regardless of health status, employment or financial situation.

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