Farmer, heal thyself

Montana State Roundup

Published November 1, 2008  | November 2008 issue

As if high fuel and feed prices weren't bad enough, farmers and ranchers in Montana are paying dearly for health care. In a 2007 survey of over 2,000 farm and ranch operators in seven states, Montana operators fared the worst from rising health care costs.

Nearly one-third of Montana operators said the cost of health care had caused financial problems, and 36 percent said they had drawn down their resources to pay for it. Those figures were higher than in the survey area as a whole.

In addition, compared with the other states surveyed (Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and the Dakotas), fewer Montana farmers and ranchers had health insurance, and they paid higher premiums. In Montana, 17 percent of farming households were uninsured, compared with 10 percent on average in the other states. Montana operators who bought nongroup coverage paid a median of $11,800 annually, $600 more than the seven-state average. (Nongroup insurance costs households roughly twice as much as insurance acquired through off-farm employment.)

The survey was conducted by the Access Project, a Boston-based program aimed at improving health care in local communities, in collaboration with the University of North Dakota and Brandeis University.

Phil Davies