University of Maryland Extension

Maryland Farmers Contribute to National Study Showing Health Insurance Costs are Threatening Farm Viability

Image Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg

A national study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was recently released with major implications for the viability of the agricultural industry. The study found that lack of access to affordable health insurance is one of the most substantial concerns American farmers are facing. Maryland was one of 10 states involved in the study, with 25 participating farmers. University of Maryland Extension (UME) within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources helped with recruitment for this national survey study, and is helping unravel the results for the people they serve across the state of Maryland.

“The rising cost of healthcare and availability of affordable health insurance have joined more traditional risk factors like access to capital, credit, and land as a major source of worry for farmers,” according to the study leader, Shoshanah Inwood. Inwood is a rural sociologist at the University of Vermont who conducted the study along with colleagues at the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis at the University of Chicago.

Maryland's farmers are younger than the national sample but already exhibiting chronic health conditions. Young farmers are among those most concerned about reducing risks to the farming operation through health conditions, including injuries. For a state like Maryland, with a Beginning Farmers program offered through UME, the findings have implications for programming. There are also implications for older farmers, especially given that two out of three participants surveyed identified as having pre-existing conditions. This means any changes in national health care laws and regulations will greatly affect this population.

Shannon Dill, UME educator and leader of the Beginning Farmers Program, stated that worries about affordable healthcare are a concern and a limiting factor for new farmers looking to join the agricultural industry. “It is very often that if a husband and wife are running a farm together, one of the two has some other job that provides health insurance,” said Dill. It is not often a possibility for both family members to work the farm full time. Three in four participants of the survey had another job to provide health care and supplemental income. This hurts the viability of farming as a new career.

It is particularly concerning that half of the farmers surveyed had concerns that they might have to sell some of their land to pay for a major medical event for themselves or a loved one, or to cover a loved one’s passing. Farmers often carry their money in equity, including land and equipment. This doesn’t leave much cash available for these types of events, making strong insurance that much more critical. This has implications for the Smart Choice-Smart Use Health Insurance program as well, a program provided by UME designed to help farmers and others around the state choose a substantial health care plan and maximize their health care dollars.

With programs like these run through UME and our Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is committed to ensuring profitable and sustainable agriculture, and educating the agricultural industry on the latest trends.

For more information about the study results and implications, you can attend this free webinar designed for Extension agents and other professionals supporting the farming community. UME’s Dr. Bonnie Braun is a featured speaker.



Connecting Health Insurance and Agricultural Viability—Helping farmers and ranchers address health-related risks

Date: October 10, 2017

Time: 1:30 - 3:30 pm Eastern Time

Free. Register online:

Health, access to care and health insurance affect the vitality of agricultural enterprises and farm and ranch families, according to results from a national research project funded by the USDA. Designed for Extension, tax, loan, health and other agricultural advisors, this webinar will provide an overview of the research findings and introduce some practical tools that educators and advisors can use to help farmers and ranchers make informed decisions for their businesses and households.

Participants will leave the webinar with:

An understanding of the intersection of health and agricultural business viability, grounded in 2016-2017 national research findings.

Tools they can use in their work farmers, including worksheets, videos and other informational resources.

Questions to ask farmers and ranchers to help incorporate health costs into farm enterprise and risk management planning.

Hosted by Scott Loveridge (North Central Regional Center for Rural Development), the webinar will include presentations from Shoshanah Inwood (University of Vermont), Bonnie Braun (University of Maryland Extension), Maria Pippidis (University of Delaware Cooperative Extension); Adam (Clemson University Cooperative Extension), and Bob Parsons and Jake Jacobs (University of Vermont Extension). For more information, please email

Maintained by the IET Department of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. © 2020. Web Accessibility

University programs, activities, and facilities are available to all without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, religion, protected veteran status, genetic information, personal appearance, or any other legally protected class. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in any event or activity, please contact your local University of Maryland Extension Office.