U.S. Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Casey (D-Penn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are fighting to protect farmers' access to health care through dairy and farmer cooperatives.
In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick, the senators warned that farmer cooperatives could lose up to 20 percent of their membership if low-income farmers are limited to benefitting from tax credits only by enrolling in health plans available through the state exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. The letter urges Berwick to allow subsidy-eligible farmers to purchase their coverage from the farmer cooperatives without losing access to the tax credits.
"In many cases, the benefits provided under these plans have been specifically designed by the farmers themselves to meet a need that was not being met in the general insurance market," the letter says. "Many of these benefits, for example, such as milk deduction check-off, 24-hour live access to customer service, and special wrap-around options for accident coverage, are very farmer-specific, and unlikely to be offered in the exchanges."
"I've long supported Wisconsin's farmer cooperatives as a successful model of meeting the unique health care needs of agricultural families -- all at a reasonable cost to farmers," Kohl said. "I hope CMS recognizes the importance of these co-ops to the agricultural community and will support a solution to this problem."
"Farmers are the backbone of many of Upstate New York's communities, and it is critical that we protect their access to quality health care," said Schumer. "Thousands of Upstate New York farmers currently receive health insurance through dairy and farmer cooperatives, and I urge CMS to forge a solution that meets our farmers' unique medical insurance needs and ensures they can keep this necessary coverage."
"Farmers are critical to the Pennsylvania's economy," Casey said. "This is an important step to providing Pennsylvania farmers with the security they need to continue to work and create jobs."
"Minnesota has the most farmer co-ops in the country, so I know how important it is that our farmers have access to this essential resource," said Klobuchar, co-chair of the Farmer Cooperative Caucus. "I will continue to work to support farm cooperatives and ensure our farmers are able to get the quality health care they need and deserve."
"Farmers have long relied on their cooperatives for insurance and other assistance," said Gillibrand, the first New Yorker on the Senate Agriculture Committee in 40 years. "I am fighting to ensure that they can still access health insurance through their trusted cooperatives."