Health insurance costs are an ongoing and significant expense for farmers and ranchers and must be reduced so that they do not burden farm and ranch businesses with costs they cannot afford, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman told members of the Senate Finance Committee in a letter sent Monday.

In the letter, Stallman said Farm Bureau supports tax credits to help the self-employed purchase health insurance and to help farm and ranch employers afford insurance for their employees.

“Farm Bureau supports the efforts of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) to include language in the draft bill that would allow agricultural operations that employ seasonal workers to qualify for small business tax credits to help cover health care costs,” Stallman said.

Stallman emphasized the importance of competition to reduce health insurance costs and said an exchange where individuals and small businesses can easily compare coverage would be positive for the marketplace. AFBF opposes a public option and instead supports voluntary regional health insurance cooperatives, subject to state regulation, to give individuals and small business leverage in the marketplace.

In addition, any health reform legislation passed by Congress must address the critical shortage of health care facilities and qualified health care professionals in rural areas. Farm Bureau supports provisions in the bill that increase Medicare reimbursement rates to rural doctors and health care facilities and recommends that proposed programs designed to increase the number of primary care doctors and general surgeons be targeted to underserved areas.

Today, the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to begin consideration of a draft health care bill submitted by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). The committee is expected to complete its work on the bill by the end of the week.