While the country battles the second wave of COVID-19, harvest and farm labor contractors, such as strawberry and almond migrant farmworkers, continue to put themselves in harm’s way for consumers and businesses. With their lives at risk, agricultural workers and owners face new challenges, including finding affordable healthcare. Cost-efficient healthcare is critical for all — from growers to sellers — and these challenges must be faced head on to ensure the safety and health of current and future generations.
Healthcare challenges for the front line
With agricultural and seasonal farmworkers currently at great risk, farm- and food-related companies need to take a harder look at their healthcare policies and programs. COVID-19 has brought healthcare issues front and center and has put a spotlight on the agriculture community due to the environment these employees work in.
Many organizations turn to healthcare common practices for their healthcare offerings, such as only offering health insurance to management and other full-time employees. If low wage or part-time employees are offered major medical, the plan is usually very limited and has a high deductible. These common practices are not sufficient within the agricultural industry for several reasons, including:
- Many agriculture workers are low-wage, part-time, or on H-2A visas, which usually disqualifies them based on carrier eligibility requirements or are simply too costly, thus severely restricting equal access to healthcare.
- Many plans are extremely costly for companies and, farm owners as well since they are responsible for a large portion of the premiums for those who do actually sign up.
Because of COVID-19’s impact on the industry, owners will have to provide better access to care for all employees. This includes those who work part-time and those who are provided low-income.
Healthcare in a post-pandemic world
Let’s be honest, healthcare is already expensive, and the sad truth is many low-wage workers cannot afford to pay the premiums and part-time workers don’t often qualify — and neither do seasonal workers. This is a big issue, and it’s only going to get worse as these already high costs are predicted to soar even more.
Why are premiums anticipated to skyrocket? It’s all dependent upon the effectiveness of policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, potential new waves — such as the one we’re seeing now — and costs of a vaccine are all factors that can cause premium increases. This rise will create a burden on employers and create uncertainty for workers and can be harmful to those workers who need unforeseen medical assistance and to those who have lifelong COVID-related complications, such as lung damage.
Employers will have to prepare for a more intense healthcare process and costs for those employees who qualify. Even if employers choose plans with higher premiums, this still leaves many low-wage and part-time workers without access to healthcare.
A new solution
What do we do? The solution to the post-pandemic healthcare concern is surprisingly simple — find a healthcare plan that gives all workers access to private healthcare through their employer no matter which state they live in. The well-being of all employees — especially the growers on the front line — shouldn’t be a burden to any farm owner or company no matter the employee’s occupation or immigration status.
Such a healthcare system needs to empower employers to provide low-wage and part-time employees with retirement income security and Affordable Care Act-compliant healthcare at no cost. The good news is that this is possible. A third-party administrator can manage the plan and partner with multiple provider organizations to grant access to doctors, and a nonprofit organization can provide wellness services and dutifully subsidize the program. This system would give the confidence needed by employers to better protect their agriculture workers and farmers in an age of pandemics. It will also instill confidence in workers on the front line knowing they have access to medical care if they need it and won’t have to break the bank.
While our post-pandemic future remains filled with uncertainties, there is one thing that can be agreed on — the health and wellness of all workers should be the priority. There is no telling when this global crisis will come to a close, or if we have yet to experience the worst, but by focusing on what farm owners can do to help ensure the health of their workers, the road to recovery looks a less scary.
Dr. John Zabasky is co-founder and CEO of WorXsiteHR, which created HealthWorX, a new kind of health insurance plan that uses an innovative approach and technology platform committed to providing no-cost healthcare for all employees. Zabasky has been featured as an expert in several publications and was recently nominated for the Los Angeles Business Journal Healthcare Executive of the Year.