Farmers Union members share their health care stories

Two Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) members today participated in a panel discussion with Gov. Tim Walz on issues surrounding health care access and affordability.

Walz has been doing a series of roundtable discussions on issues facing Minnesotans, including paid family medical leave and child care, in advance of putting together his budget for the 2022 legislative session, which convenes on Jan. 31.

“The affordability issue around healthcare has been with us for decades, while the Affordable Care Act made progress, we know there is more to be done,” Walz said in his introductory remarks.

Mike Peterson, a Farmers Union member from Rice County, talked about the wages paid to personal care attendants.

His son, Blake, has athetoid cerebral palsy. He is high functioning, but he needs one-on-one care.

“We’ve decided, and Blake has preferred, that he stays in our home,” Peterson said. “We feel we’re giving him the best environment by doing that and probably saving the system a little bit of money, but it’s hard to staff the personal care attendants. Those personal care attendants who are providing compassionate hands to care for our son are being paid below $15 an hour.”

The cost of health care is also an issue for Peterson and his family. In 2016, his family of four paid $1,600 a month for health care with $6,500 deductibles. They were dropped. He has since enrolled in MNSure.

Likewise, Steven Read purchases his health care through MNSure. Read is also a Farmers Union member from Rice County.

“It’s not news to anybody that most small family farms are running on a pretty narrow margin and your health insurance costs can be the difference between profitability and being underwater year- to-year,” Read said. “My youngest son would like to take over the farm and you know, right now, he’s going to really struggle with his health insurance premium. I think that a public option for us and for a lot of those young farmers is really going to be critical going forward.”

In previous legislative sessions, Walz proposed and advocated for a public buy-in option called the ONECare Minnesota plan. The plan allows all Minnesotans to buy into a public option on MNSure and pay monthly premiums.

Members of Minnesota Farmers Union support the efforts of Walz to create a public buy-in option, adopting the language as part of their special orders of business at their November annual convention.

“A public buy-in option will help control costs for farmers, businesses, rural residents and people across the state,” the order reads.

Read and Peterson both emphasized the importance of affordable health care insurance to strong rural communities.

“It would be great if there was some health care for craftsmen and workers that everyday head out on Highway 19 and go north on 35 just to chase the benefits,” Peterson said. “They have to for their families, but we’re watching craftsmen and young professionals leave our community every day to chase those benefits and it’s draining on rural communities.”

If we want to keep people in agriculture, if we want to keep people in rural areas and small towns, this is one of the biggest drivers in forcing people to make a choice between an advocation that can be their vocation or just a job for benefits that they have to live with,” Read said.