Byline: Robert Imrie Associated Press
WAUSAU -- Thousands of farm families, small business owners and self-employed workers in Wisconsin became eligible Thursday for a new program designed to help them get more affordable health insurance.
Gov. Jim Doyle signed legislation into law that creates five regional health insurance purchasing cooperatives with the power to pool individuals to negotiate directly with health insurance providers and collectively bargain for cheaper coverage.
Wisconsin farmers face a health-care crisis, already paying three times as much for their health insurance as salaried employees working for a company, Doyle said.
'We can raise prices and productivity of our farmers, but it won't matter if increased profits just go to cover rising health-care premiums or if farms go under because our farmers can't afford health-care coverage for their families,' Doyle said.
The governor said some Wisconsin farmers pay $1,900 a month for health insurance premiums that include a $2,500 annual deductible.
'It is no wonder 25 percent of Wisconsin farmers have no health insurance coverage at all,' Doyle said.
It's believed the new alliances can negotiate health insurance policies that lower the premiums at least 10 percent and perhaps as much as 35 percent compared to what farmers now pay, said Bill Oemichen, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, a primary advocate of the legislation.
The biggest advantage will come in lower annual deductibles, perhaps to $250 to $500, he said.