New Report Highlights Plight of Family Farmers and Ranchers With Medical Debt. A recent study conducted by The Access Project shows that farmers and ranchers with children and those in poorer health are at increased risk of carrying medical debt. Farmers and ranchers with such debt face consequences that include reduced access to care and financial problems such as having to use up savings, take out loans, or increase credit card debt in order to pay for medical care. For farmers and ranchers, these consequences can affect not only their families, but also the sustainability of their businesses.
On Wednesday, October 7, 2009 the Access Project will release a report that examines the characteristics of farmers and ranchers who had medical debt and the impact of the debt on their financial situation and ability to access care. It is based on data gathered through the 2007 Health Insurance Survey of Farm and Ranch Operators, which surveyed over 2,000 family farmers and ranchers in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Organizational experts including Carol Pryor, Senior Policy Analyst for The Access Project, and co-author of the report, and Jon Bailey, Rural Research and Analysis Program for the Center for Rural Affairs, will comment in further detail on the study results and take questions from media on a media conference call officially releasing the results on October 7. A Montana rancher and a North Dakota rancher will also be available for comment and questions on the call.
WHAT: Audio Press Conference - Briefing for Reporters
WHEN: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 9:00 Mountain, 10:00 Central, 11:00 Eastern Time
CALL-IN Details: RSVP to Nancy Kohn at (617) 654-9911 x230 or Bill Lottero x237
*Carol Pryor, Senior Policy Analyst, The Access Project, report co-author
*Jon M. Bailey, Director, Rural Research and Analysis Program, Center for Rural Affairs
*Montana widow who lost the family cattle ranch due to medical debt.
*North Dakota rancher with medical debt from gallbladder surgery
This study shows that, along with those with lower and moderate incomes and the uninsured, farmers and ranchers with children and those in poorer health are at increased risk of having medical debt. The consequences of the debt include reduced access to care and financial problems such as having to use up savings, take out loans, or increase credit card debt in order to pay for care. For farmers and ranchers, these consequences can affect not only their families, but also the sustainability of their businesses.
This study also showed that medical debt is not only the result of catastrophic health care costs; in fact, 60 percent of people with debt in this study owed less than $2,000. However, this debt may represent the "tip of the iceberg," as people with medical debt are more likely to have spent more out-of-pocket for health care and to have used up existing resources before accruing debt than those without medical debt.
*People with medical debt spent almost twice as much out-of-pocket for health care as those without medical debt ($5,222 vs. $2,629).
*People with medical debt were more than twice as likely to report delaying care as those without medical debt (31% vs. 14%).
*People with medical debt were much more likely to report that they had to draw down resources to pay for care (51%) and that health care costs contributed to financial problems (52%) compared to those without medical debt (21% and 17% respectively).
The findings indicate that health system reforms that only protect people from catastrophic debt will not be sufficient; people need to be protected from accruing lower levels of debt as well, through adequate subsidies to purchase insurance, limits on out-of-pocket costs, and limits on the percent of income people are required to spend on health care. Special attention needs to be paid to people with chronic illnesses. For example, policymakers could eliminate or lessen co-payments and other out-of-pocket costs for people with chronic illnesses for treatments that are known to be effective.