A national study of farm and ranch families finds 42% percent of their income goes toward paying for health insurance and medical bills. Chris Petersen, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, says he’s stunned to see that such a large chunk of the farmer’s budget has to be devoted to health care, which can seriously threaten any family’s financial stability.

Petersen, who farms near Clear Lake, says: “I’m extremely surprised. I always knew it was a huge cost out here. As an example, the biggest family living expense check I write every month is for health insurance for the wife and I and it’s $1,300 a month.” The Access Project report finds nearly a quarter of farmers and ranchers surveyed report health care costs are causing financial problems.

Petersen says the rising health care costs affect not only the financial stability of families but also the viability of businesses and the strength of the rural economy. “A lot of the farmers are in the same boat in Iowa,” Petersen says. “This has been going on for years. As health care costs have escalated, it takes more and more money out of the budget that you could, and maybe should, be spending for other things.”

Farming is considered one of the nation’s most dangerous professions, yet Petersen says many farmers choose to go without health insurance because of the high costs. He calls the health care situation a “ticking time bomb.”

Petersen says: “In my farming career, I’m in my 50s now, there were times in the past where we’ve made the decision because of financial reasons to go without health insurance. You just say a prayer and go about your daily business. We’ve been lucky, but there’s other families that haven’t been.”

The study found nine out of ten farm and ranch families surveyed do have health insurance, meaning one in ten are going without. The Access Project report was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To see the full study, visit: “www.AccessProject.org”.