COBDEN, Ill. — Like nearly every other American, Jeff Flamm
is uncertain about how the Affordable Care Act will affect him. But he’s
convinced of one thing: It won’t be a positive experience.
Flamm, who operates one of the largest orchards in Illinois,
is among a number of farmers who will be doing some extensive math to figure out
how to manage his business now that the national healthcare act — often referred
to as Obamacare — is being rolled out.
“I can already see how it’s shaping up. It’s not going to be
good,” he said. “It’s going to be a nightmare. There will be tons of paperwork.
I can see the whole thing blowing up in their face.”
President Obama’s signature legislation, designed to provide
health insurance for all Americans, has gotten off to a rocky start, with
website problems greeting those attempting to sign up for the program. Those
without employer-provided insurance must purchase policies from a network of
providers, so-called health insurance marketplaces.
Since many farmers are self-employed, they may be more
likely to deal directly with the provisions of ACA. Others, such as Flamm, who
have 50 or more employees, also must decide how to follow the law from the
Margaret Vaughn, executive director of the Illinois Rural
Health Association, said the impact of the legislation is still uncertain. Many
people who will be most affected are in a holding pattern.
“Most farmers purchase their own private insurance, with the
exception of those whose spouses work outside the farm in positions in which
their employers provide health insurance which covers their family,” she said.
“There has not been an immediate impact has far as the ACA,
but everyone is apprehensive about their future coverage and taking a
wait-and-see approach at this point.”
Adam Nielsen, Illinois Farm Bureau’s director of national
legislation, agreed that it is too early to tell how Obamacare will affect
“Many people are calling their congressmen right now, and
telling them they’ve been canceled,” he said. “I’m not aware of what the
situation is with Illinois farmers. A lot of them have off-the-farm jobs or a
spouse who works off the farm and is covered by somebody’s plan.
“Thousands, probably, have individual polices. How is it
affecting them? I don’t know. I wish I did.”
ACA also will have major implications for Frey Produce in
Keenes, one of the state’s largest producers of fresh-market pumpkins. The Wayne
County farm employs as many as 400 workers during the peak season, and though
many are migrants with government guest worker permits, they are still counted
as employees for purposes of the ACA.
That means that the business would have to pay fines of
$2,800 per employee unless they are all offered a company policy. And because
the new law requires a minimum coverage threshold, it would drastically increase
costs for the company and the employees, according to owner Sarah
“It would bankrupt our company to send that money for these
workers working six months and less,” she said
That may result in reducing hours for seasonal employees and
hiring more, so that all fall under the 30-hour workweek that — under the law —
is considered full time.
“What we’re trying to do now is reduce the contract time
period that they’re here for, bringing in a higher number of workers and
rotating them out more quickly so that they stay under the threshold of being a
part-time employee,” Talley-Frey said. “Most of these guys during the season are
used to getting 60 hours a week. It cuts the amount of time you can give them to
less than half.”
Flamm has considered the same thing, but there is a problem:
the available workforce.
“I would consider that, but we’re short-handed all the time
anyway,” he said. “When you’ve got somebody willing to come to work, you want
them there. We hardly have enough help to get the job done anyway.”
Talley-Frey said the law may make it more difficult to get
“I think that they’re going to be discouraged because they
expect to work the hours that are necessary in our industry,” she said. “It’s
unfortunate that this law exists. You’re faced with taking time and energy and
productivity away from what you’re doing for a living.”
The full-time, domestic employees at Frey Farms have
employer-sponsored health insurance now, but probably won’t a year from
“We’ll have to drop all our domestic employees because we
will be faced with the fines for guest workers,” Talley-Frey said.
One thing going for Flamm, Talley-Frey and other ag
employers is that they have a year to figure out how to deal with the law.
That’s because the Obama administration granted a year’s delay before the
employer mandate takes effect.
“We dodged the bullet for one year,” Talley-Frey said. “But
we’re going to have to figure out a way to make it work.”