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VIEWPOINT: Health care reforms will benefit all

LYONS, Neb. -- Those who farm near Grand Forks are lucky, blessed with some of the richest farmland in the world and a great town to support their enterprise.

LYONS, Neb. -- Those who farm near Grand Forks are lucky, blessed with some of the richest farmland in the world and a great town to support their enterprise.

When I worked summers on a small farm about 20 miles northwest of Grand Forks in Euclid, Minn., I spent many mornings selling produce at the thriving Grand Forks Farmers Market and delivering eggs to Amazing Grains, Sanders Restaurant and Dakota Harvest Bakers.

Area farmers and residents of Grand Forks are fortunate to have these small businesses that embrace local farms and supply the community with healthy, locally produced foods.

But farmers and small business owners in and around Grand Forks face serious economic challenges. One of these challenges is the skyrocketing cost of adequate health insurance. Rising health care costs likely will determine the success or failure of many farmers, small business owners and workers during America's economic recovery.

Farmers are good at rolling with the punches. They adapt daily to ever-changing weather and agriculture markets, but the current high cost of health insurance leaves farmers and small business owners between a rock and a hard place.

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The rock is the costly insurance market, where farmers, small business owners and the self-employed are forced to buy health insurance as individuals. The hard place is going without insurance. For farmers and small business owners, this means putting their businesses or farms at risk.

As health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses rise, more small business owners in and around Grand Forks will drop unaffordable coverage for themselves and their employees. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of farm and ranch operators report that insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket health care costs are causing financial difficulties for themselves and their families.

Health care reform is crucial if we hope to continue to grow small business and farms in and around Grand Forks.

Reforming our health care system has the potential to make quality, affordable health care accessible to all North Dakotans and Minnesotans. We can achieve this by creating new health insurance options and tax incentives to help the self-employed and small businesses purchase quality health care coverage.

The health care bills being debated before Congress provide such an opportunity.

By advancing health care reform, Congress can help family farmers, ranches and small businesses access affordable, quality health care coverage. This will jump-start entrepreneurship, get farmers and small business owners out of a tight spot and strengthen our rural communities.

Wolking is a rural policy organizer at the Center for Rural Affairs.

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