Most Illinois soybean producers have to navigate the challenge of finding and keeping quality health care and accessible health insurance. For some of us, that means a family member must seek an off-farm job that provides a family medical plan. For others, like prospective young farmers, it can prevent a return to the farm because they must work elsewhere for coverage.

Either of these scenarios may be less than ideal in meeting farm goals. And the concern is reflected nationwide. A U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded health survey conducted last year found three out of four farmers believe health insurance is now an important or very important risk management strategy. About 40 percent said they or a family member have had health problems affect their ability to farm. Half noted no one could run the farm if there was major illness or injury.

As the American Health Care Act begins in 2019, there is continued uncertainty. Many Illinois producers have found the best options for participation in the non-group plan market supported by the current Affordable Care Act. But for those with pre-existing conditions, new insurance alternatives could push affordable insurance further out of reach in the future.

Exacerbating the issue is a lack of quality care options in many of the state’s rural communities. According to a recent report by the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, nearly half of the state’s small, rural hospitals operate on slim to negative profit margins. Rural populations often are older, poorer, more likely uninsured and more dependent on Medicare or Medicaid.

In addition, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the shortage of physicians will reach 120,000 by 2030. In Illinois, 25 percent of the population resides in rural areas, but only 10 percent of physicians practice there. Roughly three-quarters of Illinois’ rural counties are primary care deficient. The Illinois Health and Hospital Association finds rural areas have 45.5 primary care physicians for every 100,000 people, compared to the statewide average of 80.7.

The Illinois Soybean Association is setting up a task force to evaluate health-care and health-insurance concerns with the goal of helping to lead the discussion about how to address them. We want to find innovative answers and help producers apply those solutions.

The November issue of our magazine, Illinois Field & Bean, is dedicated to providing information about healthcare and health insurance opportunities and challenges. The issue shares everything from the broader scope of health-related issues to how they affect today’s young farmers. Readers will find details about programs being tested in the marketplace and the policies that might affect the future of healthcare, insurance and rural development in our local communities. If you don’t receive the magazine, it can be accessed on our website, ilsoy.org.

As our task force begins its work, I hope you will share your health care and insurance situations, problems and answers. Just as we might step in to help a neighbor with harvest in a time of need, we should work together to resolve the health crisis in front of us. Contact me at ilsoy@ilsoy.org.

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