Wisconsin State Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan (41st District), issued the following news release:
By Rep. Joan Ballweg
As health care costs have soared in recent years, farmers and their families have struggled to find affordable health insurance. Without the benefit of employer funded health care, farmers have little bargaining power when shopping for insurance.
Fortunately, farmers and agribusiness will finally have the ability to purchase affordable comprehensive health insurance plans with the formation of a new farmer health cooperative.
Spearheaded by the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, the Farmers' Health Cooperative of Wisconsin (FHCW) was created under a 2003 law known as the 'Co-op Care' legislation. FHCW uses on the collective bargaining power of its members to purchase quality affordable health insurance.
The Farmers' Health Cooperative of Wisconsin has contracted with Aetna, a national insurance leader, to provide insurance coverage. Coverage is available to farmers who are between the ages of 18 and 64 and are actively working within agricultural production. 'Actively working' is defined as working a minimum of 30 hours per week on a regular basis, and not working in agricultural production on a temporary (less than six months) or substitute basis.
Unmarried, dependent children of co-op members are covered until they reach age 25 if they are at least 50% dependent upon their parent.
Eligible agribusiness must be a business enterprise providing direct services to production agriculture in Wisconsin or an employee of a business enterprise providing direct services to production agriculture in Wisconsin, subject to approval by the cooperative.
Those interested in obtaining health care coverage through FHCW will need to enroll as a member of the cooperative and pay a capitalization fee. The membership fee is $2 per farmer or per employee per month. The capitalization fee is paid when you enroll in the cooperative. It is held in a reserve account and will be returned to you after three years of enrollment has been completed.
Those eligible to enroll can choose one of six health insurance plans starting April 1, 2007. The plans include the flexibility of choosing a provider either in-network or outside the network. The cooperative will offer individual and family coverage with deductibles ranging from $300 for a single person to $5,000 with a Health Savings Account for a family. The co-op's plan will cover workplace injuries and include prescription drug coverage and emphasize prevention health care. Another benefit of the plans is a 24-hour nurse hotline.
As a cooperative, FHCW is also member-owned and governed. Like other cooperatives, it is a non-profit business that invests future profits back into the cooperatives and its members.
For more information or to enroll in the cooperative, you can contact the Agri-Services Agency at 800-539-9370 or log onto www.farmershealthcooperative.com.
Farmers I've spoken with are starting to get quotes from FHCW and will be taking advantage of this health care option. Because FHCW is a new program, I would like to hear from individuals who join the plan, or have compared rates. Please call my office at 888-534-0041 or write me at Rep.Ballweg@legis.wisconsin.gov with feedback on benefits derived from the plan, as well as any concerns or glitches in the start-up of this promising program.
I am hopeful the formation of this cooperative will prove to be a cost effective health care solution for Wisconsin farm families who desperately need it.