Health Insurance Gaps in Farmers Markets

      Posted On: October 19, 2011

By Drew Love

As the food movement continues to gain in popularity and market share, the number of farmers markets have sky rocketed over the past few years.  From 2010 to 2011 alone there was a 17% increase resulting in a total of 7,175 markets.

In order to guarantee the long-term financial and human resource sustainability of these gains, it becomes increasingly more important to focus on the fundamental human elements of the farmers market community.

One of those fundamentals is healthcare.

How important is healthcare to the farmers market community?

A study by the Social Responsibility Initiative at The Ohio State University found that health insurance is identified as a the most serious financial threat for commercial farmers in the Rural-Urban Interface, more so than the cost of farmland, farm inputs, or product prices.  Researchers concluded that ―an affordable and accessible national health care program would free up time and resources farmers at the Rural-Urban Interface could reinvest in their enterprises, households and local economies (Inwood, S., Sharp J. S., Smith, D-J., and Clark, J. K., 2009).

In order to better understand the problem and identify potential solutions, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC), with support from the USDA Risk Management Agency, conducted a survey of farmers market managers and producers selling at farmers markets in the spring of 2011.

The report indicated that 31.9% of the farmers market community is uninsured, versus 8% of the general population. In short, the community is almost twice as likely to be uninsured as the rest of America.

The barrier to insurance was clear, and not surprising. Over 90% of those surveyed identified cost as the major obstacle.

Part of the cost issue arises from the small scale nature of farmers market businesses.

According to the FMC survey, nearly 77% of the organizations and businesses surveyed were either self-operated or had five or fewer employees. Businesses this small are not eligible for the kind of economies of scale that qualify for discounted insurance rates.

Often unable to provide employer insurance, farmers market employees and farm owners are left fitting the bill themselves. A full third of those surveyed indicated that they had purchased an individual policy, while only 8% of the general US population had an individual policy.

FMC is currently exploring possible solutions to the health insurance issue.

One possibility is a supplemental health benefits plan offered through FMC. Approximately 56% of respondents were either somewhat interested or very interested in this type of solution. FMC is currently considering other solutions that would provide limited coverage, discounts, or other medical assistance to its members at a reduced rate.

Other challenges, insights, and solutions appear in the full report, which can be found here.