Concerns include care providers, insurance tax credits

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

Agriculture didn't exactly lead the charge for health care reform, but there are some things that farm groups want in any bill that Congress may pass this year.

Farm and rural advocacy groups want the government to tackle the shortage of health care facilities, primary care doctors and other health professionals in rural areas.

They also want provisions that ensure that farmers and ranchers are able to afford coverage for themselves and their families -- and if they choose to provide it -- for their workers.

The American Farm Bureau Federation wants a bill that would allow agricultural operations that employ seasonal workers to qualify for small business tax credits to help cover health care costs.

AFBF President Bob Stallman told the Senate Finance Committee in a recent letter that a draft bill under consideration by the committee could disqualify many farmers and ranchers from such tax credits.

The provision would obligate employers of 50 or more workers to reimburse the government for tax credits used by their employees to purchase health insurance.

Seasonal workers hired for only a few weeks during harvest could easily push many small farms or ranches over the 50-worker threshold, Stallman wrote.

"Farm Bureau urges the addition of language to ensure that small farm and rancher employers who hire temporary or seasonal workers are not required to reimburse the government for health care affordability credits," Stallman wrote in the letter.

"Health care reform will have a huge impact on the cost, quality and availability of the health insurance that farmers purchase for themselves and their families and for the workers they employ," he wrote.

The Farm Bureau is opposed to the so-called public option and instead supports voluntary regional health insurance cooperatives.

"Our big concern is that we don't want a government-provided system," spokesman Mace Thornton said.

The Farm Bureau opposes compulsory health insurance and any mandates that would require employers to provide coverage for workers.

The organization has joined other groups in insisting that health care reform must address the critical shortage of health care facilities and qualified health care professionals in rural areas.

One of the big problems is that a greater percentage of rural Americans are uninsured compared with urban Americans, according to the National Rural Health Association.

Twenty-three percent of people living in the most remote rural areas of the country are uninsured, compared with 19 percent in urban areas, association officials said.

Forty percent of self-employed people living in rural areas are uninsured, compared to 32 percent in urban areas, the association said.

Staff writer Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls. E-mail: dwilkins@capitalpress.com.

Online

American Farm Bureau Federation: www.fb.org

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