Health insurance should be key issue in election

Saturday, December 29, 2007

We're all concerned about the war in Iraq, especially if we have loved ones serving there, or even if we're taxpayers.

But more than half of us are more concerned about issues such as the economy, our mortgage, credit cards and health care, according to the latest AP-Yahoo News survey of more than 1,800 Americans.

That's not news to Golden Plains farmers and ranchers, who spent an average of $7,247 in 2006 for health insurance, according to The Access Project, a research organization at Brandeis University in Boston which conducted a new survey.

One in four producers have financial problems because of the cost of health insurance, according to the survey's sample of more than 2,000 farmers and ranchers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska.

Some 36 percent of the families surveyed are paying an average of $4,359 more than their counterparts who get insurance through an employer.

Worse, some of them are going without health insurance, or have less than they really need.

Wade Moser, executive director of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, noted that it used to be loan interest payments that made up the single largest expense in ranching. Now, it's health insurance.

At the least, he said, farmers and ranchers should be able to deduct their personal health care costs from taxes in the same way that other business owners can deduct the cost for employees.

The story about the report did not indicate it, but we'd bet many of the farmers and ranchers who do have adequate health insurance obtain it through employment off the farm or ranch.

The health insurance situation in agriculture is just the worst example of the burden many families face, whether self-employed or in private industry.

"It is generally considered that spending 10 percent of one's income on health costs is an indicator of excessive health burden," said lead researcher Jeffrey Prottas, a professor at Brandeis University.

We're sure many area families would fall into that category, and many more are forced to hang on to undesirable jobs just to keep the health insurance.

Yes, the War on Terrorism, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or now, even Pakistan, deserves top billing in the upcoming presidential election.

But the candidate who offers the best solution to providing quality health care at a reasonable cost will attract more than his or her share of votes.

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