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When it comes to health insurance, Idahoans shouldn’t take chances

Dick WittmanAlong with three other family business partners, I manage a large, diversified dry-land crop, cattle and timber operation in northern Idaho and also provide consulting services to family farm businesses. I’ve got a lot on my mind, but one of my top issues is health care and health insurance.

I was glad to see Your Health Idaho (YourHealthIdaho.org) launch last week. This new site has the potential to be an effective tool to help find the right insurance plan for my family and for Wittman Family Farm employees.

In addition to our four partners, our business employs as many as 15 full- and part-time workers during the year. We believe a responsible employer needs to offer competitive pay to its employees. We also believe employees need the peace of mind related to proper health insurance coverage.

The complexity and cost of health coverage creates a difficult challenge. Often, the annual health insurance premium increases turn out to be more than the amount we would annually budget for employee pay raises. Bottom line, that could mean the only increase in compensation workers receive is the increase in the payment we make on their health insurance premiums. It also means we have to heavily weigh health care costs before creating or continuing a full-time job.

This is a significant concern on the farm as well as at home for my wife and me.

My wife retired last year as the Lewiston City Library director. The COBRA health insurance that covers both of us expires in November. We’re both too young for Medicare. So, like tens of thousands of other Idahoans, we find ourselves in need of a health plan that will meet our family’s needs without breaking the bank.

When it comes to health insurance, lots of people take chances they shouldn’t be taking. They go without coverage either because they don’t think they can afford it or because they can’t wade through the mountain conflicting facts and figures and come to a comfortable conclusion on what to do. I also know that a serious illness or accident can wipe out a family without coverage. I don’t want that to happen to us or to anyone works on our farm.

Sometimes it seems like nobody can give you a straight answer. Our insurance agent is a former employee of a large, multistate company, and he he admits to being confused on how to advise clients these days. If he’s confused, how do you think we feel?

We need to be able to compare plans on an apples-to-apples basis so we know exactly what we’re buying. And many of us are looking for help through the process from trained advisers who understand our families, our businesses and our communities.

I found a lot of good information on the Your Health Idaho website. It summarizes upcoming changes in federal law, tax credits for small businesses, criteria to qualify and other information. After Oct. 1, the site promises to provide options available to me through five private insurers competing for my business.

It’s important for all small business owners to engage in this transition and learn together how to optimize a strategy for going forward. Some of us might not agree with the outcome of the health care debate in Washington. However, I appreciate that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and our state Legislature made it a priority to pursue a state-based health insurance marketplace that will be designed, run and overseen by Idahoans.

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Dick Wittman received a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Idaho and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Utah. In 1980 he joined the family farm in Idaho, Wittman Family Farm, and established a part-time consulting practice. He and his wife, Dawn, have raised five children.

About Dick Wittman

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