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Leaders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services urged rural uninsured Wisconsinites to enroll in health care coverage before the Health Insurance Marketplace closes on Jan. 31. The next Open Enrollment Period will not be until the end of the year.

'As an infrastructure provider Rural Development has invested heavily in health care facilities in rural Wisconsin. But that is only half of the equation. Without health insurance, too many people were not getting the care they need. The Affordable Care Act changes that….providing people sign up and take advantage of the benefits the law offers,' said USDA Rural Development Wisconsin State Director Stan Gruszynski during a media call. 'The Affordable Care Act ensures a healthy tomorrow for rural Wisconsin.'

The need for health insurance for rural consumers is very real. Rural Americans suffer from higher rates of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure than those living in urban areas.

Additionally, prior to the inception of the new Health Insurance Marketplace, on average, rural families paid nearly 50 percent of health care costs out of pocket, and one-in-five farmers was in debt because of medical bills. In 2015, Wisconsin enrolled 50 percent of those eligible in rural communities; neighboring Michigan enrolled 53 percent.

'Marketplace enrollment in Wisconsin is strong with about 224,719 already enrolling,' said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region 5 Director Kathleen Falk. 'But we know there are many more still without coverage, including many in rural communities, which is why we are so grateful for the leadership and efforts of our colleagues at the USDA.'

The good news is rural residents have affordable options available to them. About 7 in 10 Wisconsin enrollees are eligible for plans costing $75 or less a month in premiums after tax credits, and about eight in 10 already-enrolled Wisconsinites who return to shop the Marketplace could save an average of $828 annually in premiums (before tax credits) with a plan offering the same level of coverage.

Those who can afford to purchase health insurance this year, but choose not to may face a fine of $695 or more. For instance, a family of four with an income of $70,000 will pay a fine of about $2,085 for 2016, based on the most recent IRS data.

Individuals with questions about the Health Insurance Marketplace are encouraged to visit www.healthcare.gov or call 800-318-2596.

Read or Share this story: https://www.wisfarmer.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/01/26/healthcare-coverage-deadlines-loom/87279880/