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Farmers need insurance aid

June 04, 2003

As if weathering the recent drought and getting low prices for the crops they produce weren't bad enough, about 1,000 of Maryland's family farmers took another blow recently when CareFirst insurance cancelled policies held through state farm bureaus for 20 years.

If the state and its elected officials are serious about preserving family farms, they will find a way to help farmers get the coverage they need to stay in business.

Some state lawmakers have already weighed in, caling CareFirst's decision "outrageous." CareFirst officials say that they have lost $2 million on the policies in the last two years, in part because the farm bureaus didn't sign up 75 percent of all eligible members, as required under a clause in the policy.

Mark Zuzik, the state administrator for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said that's because younger, healthier farmers have purchased other more economical CareFirst policies over the past few years. Those left in the original program, Zuzik said, are elderly, with pre-existing health problems that might prevent them from finding other coverage.

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We will comment on the CareFirst proposal to turn itself into a for-profit company and merge with a California-based firm another day. For now, the plight of the farmers is the top priority.

Without insurance and with little prospect of getting it easily, those farmers may be pushed to quickly sell to developers. That will add to state and local governments' costs for roads, schools and law enforcement, not to mention the loss of rural residents' quality of life.

Businesses which depend on farm customers will suffer, too, as will the air quality of newly developed areas, as new residents bring their vehicles with them.

And so getting these farmers' policies back is not only the right and fair thing to do, it makes sense for all Marylanders. It's time for state lawmakers to get cracking and find a way to get them coverage.

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