Wisconsin Farmers would be able to join a statewide health care cooperative , under a program unveiled Monday at the Capitol. Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives President Bill Oemichen says the plan is the first of its kind. It allows farmers, their families, and employees to bargain for coverage that may be cheaper that independent plans already available to them. The program allows farmers to negotiate lower prices on comprehensive insurance plans through collective bargaining.

Governor Jim Doyle says the cooperative is needed to keep agriculture going strong in Wisconsin. The Governor says rising insurance rates are hurting the state by driving families out of agriculture completely. Doyle points to some families having to work off the farm just to afford health insurance coverage.

Oemichen says it's hard to predict what the average cost of insurance through the program will be, but they're hoping to attract a wide variety of farmers to help keep them down. The more producers who join will provide a better balance when negotiating rates.

Insurance is being offered through the Hartford, CT based Aetna company. It will be administered by Agri-Services Agency of Syracuse, NY. Officials hope to have enrollment open to farmers by April 1st.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (MP3 1:02)

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