I am a victim of socialized medicine.

When I turned 65 two years ago, I became eligible for Medicare, having weathered three years without any insurance at all. About the same time, I learned that I was eligible for Veterans Health Care, having been a Vietnam-era draftee.

When I was younger, I was especially abused by a special form of socialized medicine that few people know about: The Jones Act.

In 1980, when I was 36, I broke my forearm working on a fishing boat off the Merrimack River. The break required surgery, a couple of months of recovery time, a second surgery and more recovery time. All of the medical expenses were picked up by the federal government, thanks to the Jones Act, which pays for injuries caused at sea.

Not only were all expenses paid, but the Jones Act also paid me for lost work at the same rate as my fellow crewmen. Socialism at its worst.

I am a happy victim, however, since my worries — about going bankrupt if I had an accident or major illness — are pretty much over with. And although we had private health insurance in 1980, I would have lost a bundle of income recovering if not for the Jones Act.

In “The Healing of America,” author T.R. Reid says the Veterans Affairs health care model closely resembles British health care, and Medicare looks a lot like the Canadian model. And the rest of the country — on private insurance provided by the employer — are in a system resembling the German health care system. (Reid doesn’t even mention the Jones Act in his book.)

There are two large differences between American system and the British, Canadian and German systems: They provide health care to all citizens, and the hospitals and insurance companies are nonprofit and carefully regulated by government to keep costs down.

Small farmers in Maine do not have the advantage of employer-provided health insurance, unless they have a spouse who works off-farm, and only a few may be eligible for VA health care. Unlike me, most are probably thinking of retiring out of farming when they get old enough for Medicare.

I called a few area farmers to see how they were doing with our current health care system. Not well. Two said they were on MaineCare, one had a “sky high” deductible with barely affordable monthly payments, and a fourth was lucky enough to have a doctor for a spouse.

“I totally depend on MaineCare,” said Mary Perry of Winterberry Farm in Belgrade. Perry is a single mother of two teenagers, one of whom has Type 1 diabetes with medication that costs $4,500 to $5,000 per month. Perry is not sure if the proposed cuts in MaineCare would affect her family.

“We all work very hard to produce good food, but there is little help for farmers who need health care,” she said.

Jan Goranson, who runs Goranson’s Farm in Dresden with her husband Rob Johanson, said they had no choice but to buy private health insurance with a “super high” deductible and high monthly payments.

“We don’t want to lose our farm,” she said. Goranson is in her 50s and very mindful that both her parents died young from cancer.

At Long Meadow Farm, we feed about 100 families almost half a year with vegetables. We gross $60,000 to $70,000 per year, which leaves us enough to pay the bills and invest another $8,000 to $12,000 per year in capital improvements. If I didn’t have health care, all capital improvement allocations would go to a health care system that would be dubious at best.

Most Maine farmers, however, don’t have many options.

The Maine Farm Bureau has a health care program for its members. According to Tom Foster of Farm Family Insurance in Augusta, the Kennebec County agent for the program, a couple in their 50s with dependent children would need a $5,000 deductible and pay $1,600 per month — $19,200 per year — to purchase health insurance.

Not at all feasible for my-sized farm or anyone grossing less than $100,000.

How about the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which has more than 6,500 members, most of them small farmers? Not much going on there, either. David Shipman, MOFGA’s treasurer, and a division coordinator for Fedco seeds in Clinton, is committed to the idea of health care for Maine’s farmers.

“We ought to provide health care for Maine farmers,” he told me. He envisions a cooperative program with MOFGA members, employees at Fedco and other cooperatives. He hasn’t quite worked the numbers, but the idea is there.

So, stay healthy everyone, because help is not on the way.

Denis Thoet owns and manages Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner. www.longmeadowfarmmaine.com.


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