I'm starting to really dread finding letters in the mailbox from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, our health insurance company.

Last winter, we got a letter explaining the 50 percent increase in health insurance premiums. After finding a plan with a higher deductible and a somewhat more affordable premium, I thought my health insurance headaches were over.

It turns out they were only just beginning.

Last week's letter from Blue Cross announced that, starting in 2017, the company will be discontinuing all individual and family health insurance plans. The letter included a several-hundred word explanation of the main point: our company is losing too much money on individual plans, so you need to find a new health insurance company.

I read the letter and fumed.

Blue Cross will continue selling health insurance through employer-based plans; they're only dropping the individual plan portion of their business. So, basically, those of us who are self-employed, like farmers and other small business owners, are getting thrown out into the street to find a new home. We're supposed to be the backbone of our nation's economy but it feels like we're being treated as second-class citizens when it comes to health insurance.

Then I cried.

Blue Cross has been our insurance provider since we started farming. We stayed with this company even through the premium increases because I wanted access to the best medical care in the state in the event that something happened to one of us.

Now, I have no idea what kind of access to medical care I'll be able to find. Or what kind of premiums and deductibles will be available. Our health insurance premiums already consume a third of our family living withdrawal. Even worse, all I can do right now is stew about it. I can't start shopping around for coverage because health insurance companies haven't set their rates for 2017.

I am characteristically a glass-overflowing optimist, but right now it's hard to be optimistic about the health insurance options that will be available when open enrollment begins in November.

Here's why:

Blue Cross's exit from the individual plan market leaves 103,000 Minnesotans without health insurance. That's a big increase in demand that has to be met by the other health insurance companies in Minnesota.

When demand goes up, prices increase. In free market economics, demand and supply would balance themselves out and prices would stabilize. In the face of high prices, some customers would choose to go without health insurance, bringing demand back down to meet supply.

But health insurance is no longer a free market. Because of current federal health care law, individuals must purchase health insurance or face penalties. Under that same law, health insurance companies cannot deny coverage to applicants.

But health insurance companies can raise their rates. Or they can exit the market the same way Blue Cross did. Some health insurance market analysts point to Blue Cross's exit as the next domino to fall after Preferred One left the individual health plan market in 2014 due to significant financial losses.

Those losses on individual health plans are the result of a basic imbalance: too many expenses, too little income. On the surface this looks like a bad business situation, but it's really a consequence of a broken system: As a society, we aren't taking responsibility for our health. Instead, we're relying on medical care and prescription drugs to keep us functioning. Furthermore, hospitals, clinics, and pharmaceutical companies practice indiscriminate and unethical pricing for medical care. As a result, our nation's health care bill is excessively high.

Insurance works because of the law of large numbers. A large group of healthy people pays premiums, which pay for the claims of a small group. But in the individual health insurance market, the large group's premiums no longer generate enough funds to cover the small group's claims, so the result is financial losses.

As a business owner, I fully understand that business cannot continue with year-after-year losses. Something has to change. Either you reduce expenses, increase income, or exit the business. Given the complications of the individual health insurance market right now, I can see how exiting the business is the easiest option.

In a Pioneer Press story about Blue Cross exiting the market, a representative from another health insurance company summed up the uncertainties the industry is sorting through: "We don't know what the path forward looks like yet," said Larry Bussey, director of communications for Medica.

I'm guessing their headaches are even bigger than mine.

Health insurance companies have until August 1 to submit proposals for 2017 individual health plan rates to the state department of commerce. I think it's safe to say that health insurance companies will ask for higher rates again this year. Last year the commerce department approved rate increases as high as 50 percent because health insurance companies were experiencing significant financial losses.

But if those rate increases still don't balance the budget, health insurance companies could still exit the market before open enrollment begins on November 1. Another domino down would create even more uncertainty in the market.

For those of us who rely on individual health plans to insure our families, the path forward looks pretty certain: fewer companies to choose from and higher premiums.

References available upon request.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children - Dan, 9, Monika, 7, and Daphne, 3. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.