Get a Handle on Health Insurance

02:05PM Dec 03, 2019
Health Insurance risks
Get A Handle On Health Insurance
( Graphic: Lindsey Benne; Photo: iStock )

As a polar vortex tore through the Midwest and northern Plains, frigid temperatures were among the least of 25-year-old Tanner Overby’s worries. His life changed forever on that cold Jan. 30, 2019.

“I was greasing the mixer wagon to feed cows when the glove on my right hand pulled my arm in,” says Overby, a Binford, N.D., crop and cattle producer. “Without thinking, I instinctively used my left arm to try to catch it. My arms stopped the mixer wagon, which is what made my dad realize there was something wrong when the belt started to squeal.”

For the next month he, and his then-girlfriend, lived in a St. Paul, Minn., hospital where he was in and out of surgery almost every other day. All told, he lost five fingers, his pinkie and thumb on his left hand and his pointer, middle and ring finger on his right hand. He was lucky he didn’t lose his entire left arm because of lost tissue and infection.

“His final surgery, No. 12, was Feb. 22,” says Megan Ternquist, Overby’s fiancée. “The hardest part was when we came home and started recovery and therapy — it was a doctor’s appointment almost every other day. The nearest doctor who could provide the care he needed was 90 miles away.”

Of course, this whole experience wasn’t cheap. The helicopter ride alone cost $38,000, and his running total for medical bills is $640,000.

Insurance Can Save the Farm

The accident made Overby reevaluate many of his priorities and recognize the importance of health insurance.

“Before this experience I was more casual about health insurance; I knew you should have it, but it wasn’t such a priority,” Overby says. “A year ago, I actually took out accident insurance on myself, but I never thought I’d use it.”

Health insurance is a major barrier to entry for young farmers, and a hurdle for experienced farmers too.

“At times, young people are of the perspective that they are healthy and don’t need health insurance,” says Alana Knudson, co-director, NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis. “But it’s these kinds of injuries that can contribute to bankruptcy.”

Big Risk, Big Costs

Monthly cost for health insurance varies, but independent health insurance agency Health Markets pegs the average benchmark plan at $477 per person, down to $207 with subsidies. This doesn’t include out-of-pocket costs or deductibles.

“A catastrophic coverage plan covers the bare minimum and has a high deductible,“ says Shoshanah Inwood, assistant professor of community, food and economic development at Ohio State University. “So, it’ll cover astronomical bills, but it won’t cover preventative care, cancer or ailments that aren’t one big devastating bill.”

Consider what risk you’re taking with catastrophic coverage plans. You could have bills that don’t hit your deductible. But for farmers in good health, who are willing to take on that risk, it’s a lower upfront cost option that can help in the case of accidents and other big-ticket bills.

Once Overby gets married, a day that’s fast approaching, he’ll be added to Ternquist’s health insurance. For now he’s wading through unfamiliar waters as he shops the health insurance marketplace.

The Open Market

As you shop the open market, consider current and future family needs and ask these questions:

  • What is the cost?
  • What will be your deductible?
  • What is covered?
  • Who is in your network?
  • What is the prescription plan?
  • Are you eligible for subsidies?

Open enrollment for health insurance ends Dec. 15, 2019.

To see how average health insurance costs vary by state, visit