Like track runners, farmers and ranchers in Kansas face several hurdles. Whether it’s unpredictable and unfavorable weather, a volatile market that causes commodity prices to fluctuate or correcting misconceptions about agriculture, farmers hurdle many things.

Yet, hurdle after hurdle, farmers and ranchers run the race because they love what they do. They chose it. They want their operation to continue so the next generation can carry on the tradition. For this to happen, our food and fiber producers need to stay healthy.

A recent national survey shows 65 percent of farm and ranch families believe access to affordable health care options is the number one threat to the success of their operation. In the past five years, net farm income has declined by nearly 50 percent, while insurance costs increased more than 200 percent. In Kansas, Farm Bureau members report health coverage costs as the most significant expense in their family budget, at times representing 30 to 40 percent of annual budgeted expenses. That is a hurdle nearly impossible for farmers to overcome.

One Farm Bureau family in western Kansas has felt the struggle of finding workable and affordable health care. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) altered the definition of sole-proprietorship, it resulted in their health coverage carrier canceling their group coverage.

“The logic was that we didn’t qualify for the group plan because we didn’t have employees,” the Goodland farmer said. “My parents are involved in our farm but operate separately and we don’t have non-family employees that would qualify us to form a new group.”

The family went to the marketplace for coverage and was hopeful to qualify for subsidies, but never received help. Their health care costs continue to increase while their coverages weaken.

In order to advocate on behalf of farmers like this family, Kansas Farm Bureau presented legislation to lawmakers in Topeka this January to offer its members health care benefit coverage.

The legislation addresses the access and affordability concerns of Farm Bureau members in Kansas related to health care.

Analysis of the Kansas marketplace indicates that participation in pre-ACA and ACA exchange products has been and will continue to decline as rates for unsubsidized participants continue to increase. Those individuals would benefit from the creation of a more affordable option than is currently available.

Farm and ranch families and small business owners face uncertain economic times, making their ability to purchase health coverage for their families difficult, resulting in more uncovered lives in Kansas and struggling health systems in rural communities. Kansas Farm Bureau’s proposal would allow the creation of competition and free-market options for health coverage and support rural hospitals and providers.

Help us jump this health care hurdle to keep farmers and ranchers on their operations. If you struggle to find affordable health care, tell your legislators your story. Learn more and send your message at www.kfb.org/kshealthcare.