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Rural America needs health care solutions

Health care and health insurance are volatile topics. Everyone has an opinion, no one thinks the present system is good enough, but no one seems to have the perfect answer on how to make it better.

We knew Jonathan Knutson's health care series, which began in last week's issue of Agweek and continues in this one, would resonate with people across the region and across the country. Many people in agriculture are self employed. Many ag businesses and rural businesses are small. Many rural communities lack nearby health care. So while the issue of health care tends to be contentious for people nationwide, for those of us in rural areas, it's a top problem.

Insurers say health insurance has long been a major concern for ag producers. They're right. But agriculturalists say the worry is greater today than it's ever been.

Our nation's farmers and ranchers already face tough times. The markets are low, and turning a profit is far from guaranteed. Add rapidly climbing insurance premiums, deductibles and health care costs and it becomes harder and harder to keep operating.

Stories shared through our social media accounts following the first story in the series show the problems our current health system has caused, along with the deep divide in how to fix it.

People have been dropped from their insurance, have seen their health care plans change, have struggled to find insurance they can afford. Many have taken off-farm jobs in order to obtain affordable coverage. Some advocate for a single-payer system like Canada and many other countries have, where everyone can buy into a national health care plan. Others would prefer more free-market-based solutions.

Rural America sent new members to Congress and elected a different kind of president than we've ever had before. Health care was an election promise, and Republicans have had seven years to create a solution that works for rural America and small business owners.

It's not the time to throw in the towel and just say the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and the only solution. More works needs to be done, whether it means fixing the problems in the existing law or writing a new one.

We don't know what the best way forward is. We're journalists and agriculturalists, not public policy experts, and all we know is what we've experienced and what those we hear from have experienced.

But we do know this: Rural America, farmers, ranchers and small business owners have a strong voice that has been heard in the last election cycle. Now public policy experts and elected officials need to give us a solution that works. No one should be spending half or more of their income on health insurance with deductibles too high to be helpful in all but the most catastrophic of events.

We're tired of hearing about families losing their land and their livelihoods to health problems they never could have seen coming. We're tired of people having to leave the farm or ranch because they can't afford health insurance, or one spouse having to travel prohibitive distances to a job in a bigger town solely for the health care coverage. We're tired of arguments that go nowhere and help nothing.

What we need is more listening and less bickering. No more name calling and no more stick-to-your-guns partisan ideology.

People on every level of government need to come together and figure out realistic ways to make this system work in a logical, cost-effective manner. Come visit us in rural America. Meet our farmers, ranchers and small business owners. Listen — really listen — to the people who've had problems in the system and to the people who have studied the issue. Find a solution that will work for everybody, in urban areas and in rural areas.

It won't be easy. There are no simple solutions. But it needs to be done.

If you missed any of the stories in our health care series, find them here:

Health insurance has become farmers' new No. 1 worry

Ag businesses, farmers seek answers on health care

Health care and health insurance resources