The National Farmers Union joined the fight for health reform Thanksgiving weekend with a reminder to wavering farm-belt senators, both Democrat and Republican, that rural America is among the hardest hit by the health care crisis. The NFU announced its endorsement of health care reform during a phone-in news conference in Washington.
"Farmers often have to purchase insurance for themselves and their families in the individual market where premiums are higher," said NFU President Roger Johnson. Premiums in the state of Arkansas represented by Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, skyrocketed 75 percent between 2000 and 2007, he said. Lincoln announced her support of health care reform hailing the $100 million added to the package to subsidize health insurance for low-income families in her state. But Lincoln has also stated her opposition to a federally-funded health care plan, the so-called "public option" on grounds it would cost too much.
"Nebraska family farmers are squeezed out of business by health care premiums, deductibles, and medical exclusions that continue to go up faster than farm income or the cost of living," the NFU president continued in remarks aimed at Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat who has wavered on health care reform but did vote to open floor debate unlike his Republican colleague, Mike Johanns, who voted to block the bill from reaching the floor.
Johanns is a rabid enemy of women's reproductive rights.
Two insurance companies control 69 percent of the Nebraska health market. John Hansen, president of the Nebraska NFU asked, "If the public option is not the way to solve the lack of competition problem then what is the alternative? No reform is not an option we can afford."
Annie Cheatham, president of the New England Farmers Union said, "We need good, affordable insurance and the choice that would come with an exchange and a public option." Her words were aimed at Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and moderate Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Olly Neal, vice president of the Arkansan Land and Farm Development Corporation said that tens of thousands of Arkansas farmers are uninsured. "We are one illness away economic disaster," he said. "In Arkansas, there were 13,484 personal bankruptcies just last year, a majority....from medical expenses."