Hearing test

Justin Schaeffer, a St. Clair County, Ill., farmer, said he received a hearing screening because his wife suggested it. Sarah Monroe, a Northwestern University audiology doctoral student, helped with the exam, available at the Illinois Farm Bureau health fair during the group’s annual meeting.

CHICAGO, Ill. — Brian Duncan, an Ogle County farmer, has led the charge for the last two years in trying to find an affordable health care option for Illinois Farmer Bureau members. At the annual meeting in Chicago on Dec. 9, he said he was hopeful at one point, but regulations are blocking efforts.

Health care expenses repeatedly come up as a top concern for farmers, so the Illinois Farm Bureau set up a team to investigate options. Progress has been “frustratingly slow,” said Duncan, the Illinois Farm Bureau vice president who spearheaded the effort.

Duncan and the team looked to neighbors to the west. Iowa passed a law in 2018 that allows the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to provide an underwritten health benefit plan for its members. But the Illinois team could not find an insurance carrier to take on the task after court decisions made the effort more challenging.

To introduce another health care option here would require legislative change in Illinois, and Duncan said that is not likely to happen.

“We believe it is unlikely the General Assembly will do something that would be seen as undermining the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Instead, the group is focusing on things it can do, which include offering grants to county Farm Bureaus to run health and wellness programs and offering scholarships for young people to pursue health careers in rural areas.

During their research, the message he heard from insurers was that farmers should take better care of themselves.

“We took that to heart,” Duncan said.

A health fair during the IFB annual meeting in Chicago offered hearing, skin cancer and blood screenings as well as yoga and massage. Speakers presented healthy eating and safety tips.

“A good friend of mine had blood drawn at a Farm Bureau health fair,” Duncan said, and it lead to the discovery that his friend had cancer. It was treated and he survived.

Dr. Josie Rudolphi, an assistant professor of agriculture safety and health at the University of Illinois, talked to farmers about some of the stressors this season, including weather, harvest delays, commodity prices and family issues. She said statistics show that white males ages 45 to 55 are at the highest risk for suicide.

“Look around at this conference,” Rudolphi said at the event where many farmers fell into that category.

Her research talking to young farmers, and those who work with farmers, including equipment dealers and rural bankers, confirmed concerns about high stress among farmers.

At times a chat with a friend or minister may be a big help, other times a professional might be the answer, Rudolphi said.

Symptoms of high stress can include aches and pains, ulcers, nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pain that can be related to heart concerns or anxiety, she said. Eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, using alcohol or drugs can be reactions to stress.

Ways to manage stress include having hobbies, exercise and diversions — which could be watching a 20-minute Netflix show or taking a walk. During busy harvest times, for example, it may be difficult to take even a short break, but she encourages finding time when possible.

“Don’t let perfect get in the way of better,” she said.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.