MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin's dairy farmers are facing a health-care crisis because of their difficulty in getting insurancecoverage, a new study says.
About 18 percent of dairy farm families have no insurance, and 23percent have at least one uninsured family member, according to thestudy, which was conducted last spring by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Program on Agricultural Technology Studies.
Only 59 percent of those who responded to the survey have healthinsurance for everyone in the family.
'This has major implications for the structure of the dairyindustry - who enters, who stays in and the kind of choices thatpeople will make,' said Jeremy Foltz, associate director of the UW-Madison program.
The high-risk nature of the dairy business makes it more difficultfor farmers to get insurance than in many other industries.
'Typically, farming is a low-margin business in the first placeand farmers are typically not covered by workers' comp, so the natureof their occupation is more risky than the general public,' said JoeKachelski, deputy director of the Wisconsin Association of HealthPlans, which represents 16 HMOs in the state.
Also, most farmers are ineligible for state programs likeBadgerCare because they deduct the value of depreciating farm assetsfrom their taxes, Foltz said.
Sabrina Gentile, director of government relations for theWisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said it doesn't look like gettinginsurance will become easier any time soon.
'We've been pushing for BadgerCare to allow farmers to participatewithout counting their depreciation,' Gentile said. 'But we also knowthat the state of Wisconsin is in debt and for them to expandBadgerCare is probably not going to happen in this biennium.'
BadgerCare was created in part to reach out to farm families, butit excludes those who deduct the value of depreciating farm assets ontheir taxes, said John Chapin, administrator for the WisconsinDivision of Public Health.
Families earning 185 percent of poverty are eligible for theprogram. That's an income of $22,089 for a family of two and $33,485for a family of three.
About 28 percent of the farmers who do have insurance get itthrough a family member's off-farm job, and 10 percent get insurancethrough their local co-operative association.
The study's results are based on responses from 869 dairy farmerswho responded to a random sample of 1,600 dairy operators in thestate.
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