Senior's Research on Health Care Coverage for Farmers Published

Betting the Farm: Health Coverage, Behaviors and Concerns Among South Dakota Farmers,” a research article by Augustana senior Michael Dulitz (Webster, S.D.) will be featured in the October 2013 issue of South Dakota Medicine, the journal for the South Dakota State Medical Association.

The study “investigates the health and health insurance status of South Dakota farmers before the onset of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 health insurance mandate begins Jan. 1, 2014,” Dulitz wrote.

The research started as a grant proposal for Dulitz’s “Social Science Research Methods” class in spring 2012, taught by Sociology Professor Dr. Susan Schrader. At the end of the semester, students were encouraged, but not required, to carry out their projects.

After expressing his interest, Dulitz received funding from the Department of Sociology and the Academic Affairs office to conduct his research. In addition to helping Dulitz find funding resources, Schrader also served as the advisor for the project and co-author for Dulitz’s article.

“Supporting research is always something we want to do,” Schrader said. “If (the students) are interested in carrying out their project, the faculty would do our best to support their curiosity.”

After receiving the research fund, Dulitz sent a survey out to 1400 farmers in nine South Dakota counties in August 2012 and received 205 replies, including 135 farmers.

“The major finding is that as farmers age, they have increased healthcare needs and are paying an increasing cost for their health insurance,” Dulitz said. “Many cited having to make significant sacrifices in order to afford their healthcare coverage.”

The research will be published just in time for the insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which will be effective beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

“It will be a conversation piece in the state of South Dakota, especially because of the controversy of the Affordable Care Act,” Schrader said. “This research provides timely data to inform that discussion.”

Dulitz’s research also attracted attention from the University of South Dakota - Sanford School of Medicine. Dean Mary Nettleman, Dr. Susan Anderson and Dr. H. Bruce Vogt have written editorials to accompany the article.

“In the Dulitz study, we see the trade-offs that are made by hard working South Dakota farmers to balance cost and benefits within an incredibly complicated health care system,” Nettleman wrote.

Dulitz said he hoped his findings would raise awareness among South Dakotans.

“Health insurers in South Dakota, like Dakota Care for instance, could work on insurance plans catered to farmers that would be affordable,” he said. 

Since he completed the research in December 2012, Dulitz had presented his findings in multiple venues, including the Midwest Sociological Society Convention in Chicago in March 2013, and the Augustana Symposium in April 2013.

“We’re very proud of him,” Schrader said.

After graduation, Dulitz plans to attend medical school and pursue a master’s degree in public health.

“I hope to improve the health of South Dakotans,” Dulitz said. “It’s important to me, because I was born and raised in South Dakota. I feel like it’s a duty to help the people of South Dakota.”

- Chi Ngo '13