Agriculture Sector Shares Insights on Health Care Costs

Focus group provides real-world clarity on health care costs

The high costs of employee health benefits continue to be a serious concern for business, including the agriculture sector. A group of individuals representing eight agriculture organizations told researchers at the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota that the agriculture sector has many of the same concerns as other business sectors, with some unique challenges as well.

“Despite the fact that agriculture is a unique and often under-appreciated sector of our economy, they look to find solutions to many of the same issues as other businesses, because they are running businesses,” says Matt Hughes, Executive Director of the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota’s Small Business Alliance.

The focus group met at the offices of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation and represented a variety of agriculture interests including producers, processors, lenders, and cooperatives, among others. They discussed a variety of topics and concerns relating to the cost and consumption of health care.

Aside from the common concerns like high costs, coverage options and changes, and consideration of workplace health promotion efforts, the agriculture sector deals with rural issues that some others don’t.  Among those concerns are limited carrier and provider competition issues, meaning potentially less opportunity to be rewarded for being an informed consumer, and technology gaps or technology use issues.  Employee language barriers were cited as an issue to manage as well.

“We know that businesses are struggling with health care – from information overload, to information clarity and options for solutions,” says Hughes. “Without question, clear options provide power. But before the needs of businesses can be met, we must know what they determine is most needed, and that includes the agriculture sector.”

This agriculture sector focus group was one in a series of focus groups conducted by the Alliance throughout the state. These focus group meetings are designed to help businesses formulate their thoughts and needs behind their frustrations with health care, determining the kinds of information that they seek, and giving input on how they would like to receive that information. Based upon this feedback, the Alliance will seek opportunities to tailor a health care toolkit to meet the needs of small- and medium-sized businesses.

Many employers throughout Minnesota are making it easier for employees to make healthy choices at work through the Statewide Health Improvement program (SHIP). SHIP is designed to help Minnesotans live longer, healthier lives by preventing the leading causes of chronic disease: tobacco and obesity. Worksite wellness initiatives support a variety of efforts including ways to increase opportunities for regular physical activity, options for healthy eating among employees and tobacco cessation tools and support. SHIP was launched as part of Minnesota’s Vision for a Better State of Health, the bipartisan health reform package enacted in 2008.

The goal of the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota’s Small Business Alliance is to bring the best health care information, in the most useful ways, to small businesses and their employees. Information is geared towards developing smarter, more informed consumers of health care and places a special emphasis on workplace health promotion.

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