Reflecting on Rural Health Week

Last week we celebrated rural health week. Keeping our rural communities healthy is key to building a stronger America. Farmworkers and their families are essential members of our rural communities, but they are among the most underserved when it comes to health care and health insurance. The men and women who harvest the fruits and vegetables that keep us healthy deserve to be healthy themselves.

Under the Affordable Care Act, gains have been made to increase health care access for farmworkers and their families. Health centers, community-based organizations, and others have undertaken vast efforts to educate and enroll farmworkers in health insurance. Most farmworkers who are eligible to purchase health insurance in the Marketplaces qualify for financial assistance to lower the cost of premiums. Some workers are newly eligible for Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid eligibility. For those who are not eligible, education efforts provided new linkages to health care that may not have existed before. In addition, dedicated funding through the ACA enabled health centers to expand their services in rural communities.

Yet despite these gains, we must acknowledge that barriers and challenges persist. Due to various factors, including the seasonal nature of their work, the size of their workforce, and immigration status, many farmworkers do not have employer-provided health insurance or are ineligible for health insurance in the Marketplaces. Many farmworkers, the majority of whom are foreign born, receive inaccurate or confusing information about health insurance, ACA requirements, and tax credits. Further, applying for health insurance is a complicated process that requires the assistance of a navigator or in-person assister.

Open enrollment is happening now! We encourage advocates and others who work with farmworkers to connect with health centers and others providing enrollment assistance. Farmworkers and others in rural communities deserve full access to health care and health insurance. Farmworker Justice developed materials for farmworker families to help them understand the ACA and connect them to in-person assistance in their area. These materials can be downloaded from our website.