If only a few politicians would brave the winter cold, and three big farm dogs, to venture onto my land, they might find me ankle-deep in mud, harvesting kale. No doubt, their first question would be why is there a plastic bag on my right foot clear up to my knee?
The answer is a few weeks ago, as I was carting hay out to the sheep, all hell broke loose. A ram went on a rampage, charging me again and again. I wound up scraped and bruised, with a broken leg.
Fortunately, my brand new health coverage worked just fine — I was whisked through the ER, and my hospital bills, cast and orthopedic doctor visits were fully paid.
However, the injury forced me to cancel a trip to Olympia I'd planned for the next day. As luck would have it, I'd intended to thank lawmakers for accepting the federal dollars offered by the Affordable Care Act to broaden Medicaid, which is now Apple Health. Had I been able to go, I would have told our elected leaders just how important health care is to farmers. Nobody who works this hard should have to count the years before they get Medicare.
It’s tough to leave the chores behind to go meet with officials. Daylight hours are precious in this line of work, and a farmer's life is filled with surprises. One morning I woke to find a fuzzy, newborn alpaca taking her first spindly-legged romp. Another morning, I arose to the bleating of panicked sheep fleeing the rush of water as Coleman Creek spilled its banks, flooding our land.
Up until this year, I was forking over half my earnings for a "catastrophic only" health plan that was riddled with fine print. None of my basic care was covered — I had to pay out of pocket for all sorts of things.
What a welcome relief that my new health plan covers preventive care, like mammograms, immunizations and yearly doctor visits. I can keep the primary care doctor I've been seeing for years. And I no longer worry about family members getting kicked around due to “pre-existing conditions.” Thank goodness.
I’m not the only local farmer happy to discover the new coverage is working — friends on a nearby farm are now getting the care they need as well. Hallelujah.
In agriculture, profits and losses shift like the weather, so for our community, it is crucial that health premiums stay affordable. I applaud our state House of Representatives for approving a Federal Basic Health Option measure (HB 2594) that would put us on track to use Affordable Care Act dollars to keep premiums within many more families' budgets.
Another farmer, bless his heart, went to Olympia to testify for this measure. More than 33,000 people in Pierce County alone and over 160,000 statewide would be eligible if lawmakers would simply give the nod so our state can start planning a program.
Who spoke against the bill? Two insurance company lobbyists.
Now we urgently need our state senators to get this bill through committee before the Friday deadline, and through the whole senate before session ends.
Meanwhile, disaster has struck once again. The storms that recently closed I-90 across the Cascades swept through this valley, destroying one of my high tunnels. These are the long, curved tent structures I rely on to start seeds and shelter citrus. Without them, I cannot grow the watermelons, turmeric, ginger and serpent cucumbers I sell in the summer.
Farmers pay a pretty penny for insurance against the extreme winds and floods that are on the rise here in the lahar of Mount Rainier, the source of our fertile soil. What a bitter irony it is to finally have a decent, straightforward health plan, only to have my farm insurer haul out its fine print to deny my claim. It will cost me $10,000 to replace this structure.
I urge our elected officials to take a cue from the good people of this community, 60 strong, who will soon come out for a giant work party to help raise the new high tunnel. That is the neighborly spirit we need to build a structure of affordable health coverage for all that stands the test of time.
Obamacare is working a lot better than what we had before, so ease up on all the political hot air and crowing against it. And to those threatening to take away our new coverage, I have just one thing to say. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.