Health bill worries producers
Both as consumers who buy health insurance for themselves and their families, and as small-business owners who must manage employee benefits, farmers and ranchers believe the health care bill passed by Con- gress last week could have serious consequences for rural health care and for small employers, according to the leader of California’s largest farm organization. “Family farmers understand firsthand the need to improve the health care system, but the bill Congress passed will be a huge undertaking both, for our nation and for individuals,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said. “
We agree on the need to rein in health care costs, but we prefer a step-by-step approach with fewer mandates and more incentives.”
He noted that many farmers struggle to find affordable health care coverage as they struggle to keep their small businesses afloat during the recession. But in its effort to extend health coverage to millions of uncovered Americans, Congress imposed mandates and penalties that Wenger said could undermine that goal. “The new taxes, mandates, growth in government programs and overall cost of the bill trouble farmers and ranchers,” he said. “We agree on the need to rein in health care costs, but we prefer a step-by-step approach with fewer mandates and more incentives to give people greater individual control over their health care.” Wenger said that, despite assurances, farmers and ranchers remain concerned that reduced Medicare re- imbursements could squeeze rural hospitals and health care facilities that already face serious financial chal- lenges. He said Congress had ignored a request from farm groups to provide greater clarity about how the new legislation will affect farmers, ranchers and rural residents.
“As people who operate small businesses, farmers and ranchers will do their best to meet the requirements of the new law, and Farm Bureau will provide them with information they need to comply,” Wenger said. “But the new coverage mandate poses real financial challenges for family farmers. This additional mandate, on top of the many others family farmers must cope with, will complicate their efforts to keep their farms and ranches sustainable.” — WLJ