After my column about health insurance ran in the Nov. 28, 2015 issue of the Dairy Star, I received more e-mails, phone calls, text messages and even a Facebook message in response to this column than any other column I've written in the past eight years.
First, thank you to those of you who made time to write, call, or message. I greatly appreciate getting feedback from readers. I have every message and letter I've received from readers saved in a special file; I cherish all of the words in those messages.
Many of you expressed your frustration with the recent increases in health insurance premiums. It was reassuring to know that we aren't the only family who is upset with and challenged by premiums that increased by extraordinary amounts. At the same time, it is disheartening. I would love nothing more than for none of us to be dealing with this.
Some of you asked what we decided to do for our family's health insurance.
We opted to increase our deductible again, which reduced our monthly premium. When we added up the cost of what we would have to pay out-of-pocket plus the monthly premiums, the plan we chose offered the best value for our money. We are still paying way more than we would like, but we didn't feel comfortable raising our deductible any higher.
Making the decision to raise our deductible again was possible because we have an emergency fund set up with enough money saved to cover our deductible. This fund is set up to withdraw a small amount from our milk check each month and deposit it in a savings account. It makes the saving process automatic; if that money showed up in our checking account, it would surely be spent.
In addition, our plan allows us to use a Health Savings Account, so we are looking into ways to utilize HSAs, in the event that we have to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses.
We qualified for a federally subsidized MNSure plan with our 2015 income level, but decided not to pursue such a plan for a couple of reasons. One of which was paperwork; we supplemented our private health insurance with a government-subsidized plan when we first started farming and I hated the overbearing amount of paperwork.
The other reason was income fluctuation. Our income fluctuates with the milk price, so we qualified this year. But when the milk price goes up (which I have faith will happen someday) and our income increases, we might not qualify. Then, I will be back to selecting a health insurance plan again.
Subsidized plans (along with Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare) might be good options for some families, but please read the fine print closely.
One of the things I learned in this process is that, if you're over age 55 and pass away, the state can bill your estate for ordinary health-care expenses. For a farm set up as a sole proprietorship, that means all of the farm's assets could be put at risk. For a farm set up as a limited liability corporation (LLCs) or corporation, only personal assets would be at risk; the farm's assets would be protected.
Another reason I was comfortable staying with private health insurance and increasing our deductible is that we have a healthy family. None of us (knock on wood) have major medical concerns, so our health care is usually not much more than preventative care (check ups, lab work, etc.).
I'm also doing everything I can to protect our health: making sure the kids get enough sleep and trying to find ways for Glen and I to get more sleep; putting lots of fresh produce on the table for meals and snacks; keeping everyone hydrated; and reducing stress (as much as that is possible for dairy farmers). It goes without saying that we get plenty of exercise and fresh air, but those are important, too.
Thank you, again, to those who shared their thoughts on my health insurance column. Thank you, to all of you, for reading my column. I am honored that you take time from your full schedule to read what I have written.
P.S. I've also received several questions via email since my column about calf care came out in the last issue of the Dairy Star. I've run out of room in this column to address those questions, so I'll do that in my next column.