Back to the Future: A Productive Rural Minnesota Requires Healthy Minnesotans

My husband and I are self-employed. We raise and finish grass-fed beef, produce broilers on pasture and non-GMO feed, and are licensed to sell these meats frozen to consumers through stores and farmers’ markets in southeastern Minnesota. My husband and I also build cabinets out of our on-farm shop and do all kinds of custom woodwork and carpentry for people. We are contributing good, healthy affordable meats to an area of the state that is a bit of a food desert. We are also contributing good quality lasting workmanship on home improvements for people. Value is a big part of what we do.

We have had employees in the past and may someday again, but for now it’s back to just the two of us. This farm and business model takes both of us — livestock needs to be moved and checked daily and when the animals need our attention we can’t delay taking action. The cabinet business also takes two people to move, load and install the finished products. In other words, we both need to be on the farm working most of the time.

Despite the fact that our businesses require the full attention of both of us, over the past 15 years we have taken turns at working moderately low-paying jobs ($13-$15 per hour) off-the-farm in order to qualify for healthcare insurance coverage through an employer. The problem was that even with this coverage only one of us got a premium at a reduced rate through the employer, while the other had to pay full market price. This rendered healthcare insurance for the two of us out of the question at $750 per month to cover the premium, not to mention the expense of deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

With the costs of pharmaceuticals and administrative overhead, income from work in this area has not even come close to keeping pace with the rising price of premiums. High premiums are not because of bad habits on the part of my husband and I (we cut living expenses every chance we get). They are because administrative costs in the industry are beyond anything that is considered financially or logistically reasonable. Hospitals, for example, have to deal with multiple insurance companies when trying to figure out how they will cover the cost of providing basic medical services.

It’s too bad the 1989 “Back to the Future” movie sequel didn’t made a prediction about healthcare insurance premiums in 2015. Looking at how high rates have risen within the past quarter-century, it truly is the stuff of science fiction. Unfortunately, for the average Minnesotan, such high costs are all too real. In fact, the latest news is that some insurance companies operating here in Minnesota are proposing increasing rates between 14 percent and 50 percent.

MinnesotaCare has caused a heavy weight to be lifted off of our shoulders. It is a state subsidized healthcare program available to Minnesotans whose incomes range from 138 percent of the poverty level to 200 percent of the poverty level. With the affordable premium it provides, we feel like there is some hope that we can always cover our fixed expenses as we age and go forward. I personally think MinnesotaCare should be expanded to reach more Minnesotans who can’t afford excessive premiums and high deductibles. MinnesotaCare could serve as a model for creating an affordable healthcare program for all Minnesotans.

This MinnesotaCare model is exactly what we, as well as thousands of other Minnesotans, need: a safety net that ensures we won’t go bankrupt paying basic medical bills. With such a safety net, we can start ensuring that rural Minnesota is populated with healthy, productive people.

Leslea Hodgson, who farms with her husband Brad near Fountain, Minn., is a member of the Land Stewardship Project's Healthcare Organizing Committee. This blog is excerpted from testimony she prepared for a Healthcare Financing Task Force meeting being held in Rochester, Minn., today. For more on LSP's "Affordable Healthcare for All" work, click here.