Wisconsin cooperative offering health insurance to farmers

A co-op is providing health insurance for Wisconsin farmers.
A co-op is providing health insurance for Wisconsin farmers.
A new program called the Farmers' Health Cooperative of Wisconsin has been offering health insurance coverage for farmers who have been priced out of the health insurance market.

Developed 18 months ago by Byron Crouse, a University of Wisconsin-Madison physician, in partnership with the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives (WFC), the health co-op has been helping farmers who faced sky-high premiums and deductibles on their insurance policies.

In a job where labor is strenuous and the risk of an accident involving farm equipment is ever-present, many farmers found that insurance companies would only offer a high-deductible, catastrophic-care policy.

"They're involved in a very physical job, working around heavy machinery, working around power tools - the classic being the PTL, or power takeoff on the back of a tractor, which drives the augers, combines and other things," Crouse said. "That thing is spinning around anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 rpm just waiting to catch anything that dangles near it."

Sandi Cihlar, a third-generation dairy farmer with her husband of 30 years, said for many farm families health insurance "was just an impossible cost."

Crouse, who tends to the medical needs of farm families in his private practice, said the risks of insuring farmers should not necessarily mean exorbitant health insurance premiums.