By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern
Healthcare coverage is a lingering concern for most beginning farmers. Farm work is by no means safe work. Physical demands, heavy machinery, sharp tools, and other unexpected dangers are inevitable risks on operations of all sizes. Those without health care coverage are nagged by the thought of how much a mistake could cost, both physically and financially.
During college, I had access to my university’s health clinic and was lucky to encounter nothing more serious than the flu or strep throat. When I moved to Colorado in 2012 to embark on my farming endeavor, I lost the student health privileges I had enjoyed as an undergrad. I was eligible for the employee health insurance through my winter job at a skiing company, but it was not affordable; if I had chosen to purchase a plan, it would have cost 80% of my winter paycheck. Granted, I would have had coverage year-round, but I was living paycheck to paycheck, so I went without coverage. During the summers, I worked landscaping jobs, restaurant jobs, and catering gigs, and I started my own company that provided organic fertilizer applications of compost tea to area residents. At the same time, I worked on obtaining a lease, raising capital, and gaining the experience I needed to manage my own market farm.
In 2015, after three years without health insurance, I qualified for the Advanced Premium Tax Credit (APTC) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which allowed me to find affordable health care coverage through the Connect for Health Colorado Marketplace. I have since renewed my coverage and am currently insured through the end of 2017. The ACA provides me with a peace of mind that I previously considered out of reach. For the first time, I have a primary care physician who I like, I can afford annual physicals and preventive care, and I can maintain my health rather than only seek medical attention when I’m sick.
In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said that, “certainly there were problems with [the ACA]… but [the American Health Care Act] is certainly not by any measure an improvement for anyone… the losers [will be] poor people, older citizens, [and] people with preexisting conditions are going to have a much harder time with things. And really, a big part, it’s a massive tax cut for the richest people in America who, at least in Colorado, aren’t clamoring for this tax cut.”
Obviously, the ACA has not worked for everyone, and I find myself very fortunate to now have health insurance. But I don’t think that completely repealing the ACA and replacing it with the AHCA is going to help the majority of citizens. Farmers I know who have coverage under the ACA say that it is working for them. I believe we need to keep and improve the ACA and not hastily replace it with a plan that will likely prevent vulnerable populations from accessing affordable coverage.