Unaffordable Health Insurance Major Problem for Farmers

My name is Curt Tvedt and I am a farmer near Byron, Minn. I am currently farming 200 acres, 120 of which are part of the original homestead that my great-grandfather settled in 1854. I retired from dairy farming 10 years ago, and I currently raise hay and soybeans, as well as do bale wrapping and plant cover crops.

During the farm crisis of 1980, we had to decide to hang onto our farm or pay for health insurance; we couldn’t do both. We chose to let healthcare go and went 18 years without health insurance. During that time, I had a serious farm injury in which I mangled three of my fingers. The bill was over $20,000 (all outpatient) that I had to pay out-of-pocket.

When health insurance isn’t affordable or when plans have high deductibles, preventative care isn’t being done. For example, a farmer friend of mine experienced extreme tiredness. Because of his high deductible, he didn’t go to the doctor. Instead, his solution was to drink six to 12 cans of Mountain Dew a day. He ended up with a major heart attack. He was diagnosed after the heart attack with sleep apnea. If he had been diagnosed ahead of time, he may not have had a heart attack. Treating the heart attack was very expensive and also put him in a high-risk health insurance group. Now it costs $2,000 per month for he and his wife for individual policies.

I think back to my dairy herd when I did all the preventative care for my cows, which made for a healthy herd and low veterinary costs (not to mention more production). We do preventative care for cows; why don’t we do that for people?

The average age of a Minnesota farmer is 55.6 years, according to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture. Twenty-four percent of farmers are over the age of 65; less than 1 percent of farmers are under age 25. I worry about the fact that we have so few young farmers. Farming is a highly capitalized industry. Expensive health insurance is preventing young people from getting started farming. We need to support young people who want to farm by providing high-quality health insurance that is affordable.

My wife and I have reached the age where we are both on Medicare. I think that is what we need for all Minnesotans. If we had Medicare for all, in which everyone was in and no one was out, this would eliminate one of the barriers for young people wanting to farm.

Curt Tvedt serves on the Land Stewardship Project's Healthcare Organizing Committee and is an active member of LSP’s Cover Crop Network in southeastern Minnesota. Part of this blog is excerpted from testimony he prepared in October for the Rochester meeting of the Healthcare Financing Task Force, which was created earlier this year. The task force is advising the Legislature and the Governor on strategies to increase access to and improve the quality of healthcare for Minnesotans. For more on LSP's Affordable Healthcare for All work, click here.