Farmers weigh in on Medicaid Expansion [Updated]

June 25, 2019


"I don’t want any other family to forego their long-term health due to lack of good insurance or affordable health care."


I would like to share our family’s experience with BadgerCare, and I would like to encourage Wisconsin legislators to use the available federal funds to expand the program to help more families like ours.


My husband, myself, and our three children ages 10, 6, and 3 are currently covered by BadgerCare.  It is amazing insurance. My youngest daughter needed heart surgery on her aortic valve when she was 2 months old.  I don’t know how we would have paid the deductible and copays without BadgerCare. Now she’s 3, she just had her annual checkup, and her health is excellent.  The cardiologist who treated my daughter told us that her condition was a silent one – we wouldn’t have seen a problem until she was lethargic, not moving, and not meeting developmental milestones.  Luckily, thanks to having good health coverage, we took care of her heart before it started affecting her development.    


Our middle daughter needed eye surgery when she was 5 years old to correct a condition that affected her vision.  Again, this was a condition that was easily treated because we caught it early, but the doctor told us that if we had waited to have the surgery, her vision might have been permanently damaged. 


I don’t want any other family to forego their long-term health due to lack of good insurance or affordable health care.  It is much easier and cheaper to treat health problems early. Unfortunately, many farm families have high-deductible plans and skip going to the doctor or specialists because they basically have to pay the full amount out of pocket.   


When my children were younger I worked off the farm and had health insurance through my employment, but that insurance didn't cover half what BadgerCare does.  At that time we were also spending about $2,000 a month in daycare, burning up gas and time driving back and forth between the farm, my job, and day care, and we missed out on a lot of time with our kids.  Were it not for BadgerCare, we would still be in that situation. BadgerCare gave us the ability for both my husband and I to invest fully in our farm. I want our legislators to know that making health insurance affordable is one of the best ways to support farmers and other small business owners.


Dairy farmers compete in a global marketplace with farmers from Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.  All of those governments make sure that their farmers have affordable health care coverage. Even in the U.S., most other states have made use of federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.  Why don’t we? I would like our state legislature to expand Medicaid so that other farm families have the good care and peace of mind that my family has.




Laurel Hartung

Dairy farmer,

Shullsburg, WI




BadgerCare helps beginning farmers find their footing


We are a family farm, Whitefeather Organics LLC.  We sell produce and meats to our local community in Portage County. 


It is especially difficult to start a farm from scratch, acquiring a land loan with current agriculture incomes. We have succeed by working side jobs, building our own infrastructure, and with the help of the BadgerCare system. In recent years we have both been able to work on the farm full time and invest in our farm business.  This has been possible due to the fact that we have BadgerCare. We can now provide food to several hundred households and create a few jobs. But again with the agricultural income, and being first generation farmers is only possible with health insurance help!


We use the BadgerCare system for serious conditions.  It was a great help when our daughter fell and broke her front teeth and needed dental surgery.  BadgerCare also helped us through two cases of lyme disease, a leg infection, doctor visits and blood tests.


I feel farming is the proudest sector of state. Wisconsin has the largest growth in organic farms. With this resource behind us we have much to prosper, but not without support. 


We encourage Wisconsin legislators to accept federal funds to make BadgerCare available to more people in Wisconsin.  Please consider how access to health insurance supports farm families and businesses in our state, and what outcomes you would like to see for some of the hardest working people in Wisconsin.  




Tony and Laura Whitefeather

2239 Sky View Rd

Custer WI 54423




Farmers with negative margins see positives in Medicaid Expansion 


My name is Trista Kenealy, and I am a Wisconsin dairy farmer.  I’d like to encourage our legislators to expand BadgerCare so that it’s available to farmers during periods of low commodity prices.


My husband and I milk 500 cows and farm 1,600 acres near Cadott, Wisconsin, in Chippewa County.  It’s well known that dairy farms are struggling financially right now, with headlines about farm bankruptcies and dairy farms going out of business.  Thankfully my sons have health insurance through BadgerCare, but my husband and I apparently make a couple hundred dollars too much to qualify. I am not sure how that’s possible when we’ve had negative income for a while now. 


My husband and I have health insurance through the Marketplace.  This year we got a letter saying that both the deductible and the out-of-pocket expense limit are going to be doubled.  If only our farm income were going to be doubled as well! The prices we receive as farmers are not keeping pace with increases in the cost of health care.  We are generally happy with our Marketplace insurance, but it would help us a lot if we could access a program like BadgerCare when farm incomes are negative.  I would like to see the Wisconsin legislature accept federal funds to expand BadgerCare to more families, especially farm families.   


Some people might ask why we don’t go get a job in town for the health insurance.  Doing so would detract from our farm business, at the very time that we need to be running the farm as efficiently as possible.  All the work on the farm would still need to be done, there would just be one less person to do it. My husband and I both work full-time on the farm, and we also have 7 full-time employees. If one of us had to get an off-farm job, it would not only add to our stress load, it would also take away from our family.  Basically we’d be working off the farm just to get health insurance and to pay for our replacement on the farm. 


All in all, I feel very fortunate.  We have our farm, our family, and our health.  We haven’t had any major injuries or illnesses to contend with.  That being said, I would still like to see the state of Wisconsin doing all that it can to support our farms. Making health insurance more affordable would go a long way.  I encourage the state legislature to accept federal funds to expand the BadgerCare program.




Trista Kenealy

Cadott, WI




“We knew farming was what we wanted to do full-time, but health care held us back” 


We are writing to encourage legislators to support BadgerCare and expand Medicaid to cover more farm families. BadgerCare is such an important program for many families in our state that it cannot afford to lose funding.  In fact, an increase in funding would help many families just like ours. 


We are farmers.  Along with our children, we grow organic vegetables directly for families who live within a 50 mile radius of our farm.  We are environmentally responsible farmers who care about our health and the health of our community.   


Prior to being full-time farmers, we had health insurance through Joe’s off-farm job.  When his position at Mercury Marine was terminated in 2009, we had trouble finding health care that would cover our entire family at an affordable rate.  We applied to BadgerCare, and found that we qualified. $40,000 a year for a family of five might seem like little, at least compared to modern standards of living, but we make it work – we budget, we store food from the harvest, we live simply.  Most years this works for our family, but a major health issue would break us if we didn’t have the support of BadgerCare.  


A couple of years ago, however, we couldn’t make ends meet and borrowed from a retirement savings account that Joe had from when he worked at Mercury Marine.  Doing this showed us having a higher income and, thus, the adults in our family were removed from BadgerCare for a year. Thankfully, we were able to get health coverage through the ACA for that time, but it was a worrisome and frustrating time.  We were continually anxious about our healthcare future.    


Health care is what kept Joe at his off-farm job for so long.  We knew farming was what we wanted to do full-time, but health care held us back.  Farming makes us happy. Being happy makes us productive. Being productive means we are contributing to the good of the community.  Wisconsin’s BadgerCare has allowed us to continue on that path of good health for all.


BadgerCare is important to our family, to many others just like ours, and it benefits the community at large. This program needs to continue and to grow in order to become an example of how health care can work.  Wisconsin can be a leader.   


Thank you for your support.



Nicole Schauer & Joe Schauer

Good Earth Farm

Oakfield, WI 53065




"I just do a lot of hoping right now" --  Farmer whose success resulted in loss of BadgerCare would benefit from Medicaid Expansion


Here are my experiences with the WI health care system over the years. Over the last four years I have been seriously trying to build up my own farm business. I am grateful to have transitioned from a wonderful job at the Menomonie Co-op to a more local job working for another vegetable farm just a few miles from my home. This provides me with the unique opportunity to work on growing my own farm business in my winter months off. 


I was previously on the marketplace health insurance for a few years and prices went up about two years ago. I wasn't able to afford the price hike and looked to BadgerCare to help me out. I was able to get onto Badger Care and FINALLY went to the dentist. I hadn't been to the dentist since I was about 18 and I am now 38, that's 20 years of not being able to afford a dentist. My teeth were thankfully in pretty good shape and I only had to get some minor work done. The dentist did notice, however, that my wisdom teeth where trying to come through. 


During this time of being on BadgerCare I had a number of really scary events happen to me. First, it was found that I had some very abnormal cells in my cervix that the doctor was concerned could escalate to being cancerous very quickly. I had to have a LEEP Procedure done soon after. Later that spring I got a tick bite that developed into Lyme disease. This was very debilitating and I had to take almost two weeks off from my outside farm job. Then later on that summer I had an accident with an old pressure canner. I ended up getting third degree burns all over my chest, torso, stomach and foot. I had to go into the ER to receive immediate treatment and was almost going into shock on my ride into the ER. A few months later I re-applied to be on BadgerCare but was refused as I make too much money. 


For the last 10 months I have been without health insurance. I cannot afford the marketplace health insurance, but I apparently make too much money to get help through BadgerCare. I hope I don't get into any accidents. My wisdom teeth are breaking through my gums and I hope that nothing weird happens from that. I hope that LEEP procedure worked and all the abnormal cells were cut out. I was not able to make follow up appointments with the dentist or doctor to know for sure. I just do a lot of hoping right now. 


The whole point of this for me is to remind people that life is full of unexpected twists and turns. I NEVER thought any of these things would ever happen to me. But it was a good reminder to be prepared. I'm fortunate to have good family, friends and community around me to help out when I was bedridden with Lyme. My partner Bob did the brunt of the farm work, taking care of our goats and poultry. My family is right down the road and were able to step in and help out when needed. My friends were an amazing support group. But even with good community support, they can't offer what a doctor can. They can't perform the medical tasks needed. 


I look forward to a day where we do not have to worry about what we should do if we get into an accident or get sick. We shouldn't have to worry about paying off huge debts because due to cancer or a car accident. I also very much appreciate the people working VERY HARD to advocate for change in how our health care system is run.  One clear step forward would be for our legislature to accept the federal money that is available to expand BadgerCare.  That way farmers and other small business owners can stay healthy and focus on what we do best, which is to build our farms and businesses, knowing that we have access to quality affordable health care if the need arises.


Thank you,

Erin Link

EB Ranch LLC



“BadgerCare was the bridge that helped get our Farm Business off the Ground”


My name is Patty Edelburg. My husband Gary and I, along with our 18-year-old twins, urge you to accept federal funding to increase BadgerCare.


We are family dairy farmers in Portage County. We started farming, milking 120 cows, in June of 2008. We did not start farming from a family business that we inherited, but rather started our own family business from scratch. We both have Animal Science and Dairy Business degrees from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. As you probably know, the dairy industry has been in a financial slump for some time now.  Health insurance is one of the major expenses we see as a financial barrier to many family dairy farmers. 


We, like many family farmers in Wisconsin, do not have health insurance through an outside employer, so we are on our own when it comes to finding health insurance. Our family had insurance from Gary's employer until we started our farming venture, at which point we switched to a private insurance plan. With skyrocketing health care costs, insurance premiums and deductibles, the amount we as a young family were paying for health care was incredible. We skipped doctor visits because frankly we couldn't afford to go. We were paying over $550 a month, plus $1,000 deductibles on all of us. So essentially, our health care was costing us about the same as our mortgage on our house. We were paying the full price for every doctor visit, every time. 


It was a great relief when, a year or two after we started farming full-time, we learned that we qualified for BadgerCare.  Our whole family was covered by BadgerCare for about three years. Having affordable health insurance in those early years of our farm really helped us get our business off the ground.  BadgerCare was the bridge that got us to the place where we could afford to pursue other options for health insurance. Some people mistakenly believe that BadgerCare is free. It was not; we paid a monthly premium of around $400, and that was absolutely fine with us.  I do think people should have some “skin in the game” for their own health care. The problem is that the cost of private health insurance today is astronomical, and certainly out of reach for dairy farmers who have been battling low prices for the last 3-4 years.  


When the Marketplace came into effect we no longer qualified for BadgerCare, so now we have coverage through the Marketplace.  The monthly premium is reasonable, but we have a deductible of $7,000 deductible per person or $24,000 per family. In other words, this is catastrophic insurance.  Preventative visits are covered, but anything beyond that we pay out of pocket. We just hope we don’t ever have an accident or illness that causes us to reach that deductible level.  With the dairy industry the way it is, there is nothing extra to set aside “just in case.”  


A lot of state legislators have been asking, “in the midst of trade wars and the dairy crisis, what can we do to help farmers?”  My answer is that Wisconsin should take the available federal funds to expand BadgerCare to more farmers. Being able to utilize BadgerCare helped both Gary and I be able to stay home and run our business, our farm. We run our farm on our own without a lot of outside help. If it hadn’t been for BadgerCare, one of us would have had to start working off the farm, just to afford health care.


Please do not make other family farmers have to choose between paying the bills and making sure their children are healthy. We urge you to accepting federal funding to increase BadgerCare.



Patty Edelburg

Front Page Holsteins

Amherst Junction, WI



Statement to Eau Claire Rally


I’m Jim Hare.  I raise a small herd of beef cattle in Prairie Farm WI. 


For just over 20 years, we’ve used an intensive rotational grazing system and market most of what we grow directly to customers. But at current prices, marketing 12 or so a year, it’s more of a side gig than a full time farm. 


Unfortunately for our family finances, none of our other jobs provides a health care benefit either, so, like many farm families, I’m in the individual market for health insurance and have been for many years.


So it was a big relief when the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – came on line in 2014. 


Looking for a new health plan some four years earlier we’d come across some fine print in the brochure of a prominent Wisconsin insurance provider that stipulated that no injuries related to farming would be covered. 


This is a plan that had been recommended to us by an insurance agent who knew we were farming. But right there, in black and white, farming was listed as a pre-existing condition.  


Needless to say we did not buy that policy. 


Of course we were in our mid-to late fifties at the time so there were other pre-existing conditions that, before Obamacare and taken together would almost guarantee that my wife Becky and I would be paying quite a lot each month with very little likelihood that the policy would cover anything we were likely to get. 


Obamacare changed that.


But we are not here to cheer for Obamacare … or for that matter to point out just how unaffordable the ACA is for many, including me.


What we are here to talk about is Medicaid expansion. 


As the current vice president of the Barron County Chapter of the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union I’m here to ask a simple question. 


Why do the Republicans in our state legislature continue to insist on leaving 100’s of millions of dollars of your federal tax money on the table? 


Are they doing it simply to prove a point? 


Do they remember what the point was? 


Or, and I personally think this is more likely, are they doing it because they just don’t care about the personal traumas and unnecessary deaths their failure to expand Medicaid has been shown to cause. 


The WI Farmers Union stands with you on this point. 


Medicaid / Badgercare must be expanded to leverage all available federal dollars.  


Moreover, our state’s Medicaid strategy must prioritize maintaining eligibility for the largest possible number of citizens. Further we insist that the service delivery mechanisms developed recognize the fact that in-person delivery are preferable and will be required in areas where internet service is sketchy.  


We oppose any cuts and/or more restrictive eligibility requirements, including work requirements for BadgerCare and BadgerCare Plus.  


Finally, we demand that the Medicaid eligibility formula recognize and accommodate the fluctuating annual income levels that are characteristic of farming and other self-employment.


Many farmers and other owner operators would not qualify for BadgerCare but we still face the daunting challenge of rising health care premiums. 


The Farmer’s Union is recommending that the state move immediately to create a public option to allow families and individuals to buy coverage through BadgerCare. This plan should be available as an option under the federal ACA marketplace to allow the tax and subsidy provisions of the ACA to help stabilize the system.  


This relatively simple reform would mean significant savings to those covered (according to the analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau) and as the numbers of un-insured drop, the corresponding reduction in uncompensated care would provide a boost to hospitals in rural areas.


I won’t take up too much more of your time but I’d like to add one more personal note. 


I am not likely to benefit from the expansion of BadgerCare, but many of my neighbors might and I think that is a good thing. 

I’m here because I think that a society, which pretends to civilization, should embrace the idea that health care – the expectation that others in our communities will care for the wounds and illnesses that life inevitably brings us - is a right!  


This is an assumption that nearly every other nation on the globe has embraced. 


The policies set forth by our political leaders are how we measure their commitment to this goal. It’s time we held them to account.


Thank you for your attention, 


BadgerCare for all!


Jim Hare


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