A group of farmers has warned that the government’s health insurance exchange will cost them “significant” amounts of money over the next two years.

The Rural Affairs Minister, Brian Cowen, told The Irish News last month that farmers could face a premium of between €10,000 and €15,000 per annum on the insurance marketplaces in the United States and Canada.

The comments came in response to the comments of an expert from the National Farmers Union who told the Independent that the costs could be “significant”.

“It’s significant because it’s going to be a very long time before it is affordable for a farmer,” said Brendan O’Neill, the NFU’s executive director.

“We have no idea how much it will cost us.

We do not know if it will be affordable.

We just don’t know.”

Mr Cowen’s comments are the latest in a string of comments made by the Minister about the health costs of the exchange.

Last year, he warned that if people did not buy coverage in the exchanges they would be left with a “profound economic burden” in the coming years.

He also said the costs of premiums would be “far greater” in Canada than the United Kingdom and Ireland.

But a group of members of the farming community, the Association of Farmers of Ireland (AFI), have warned that their members will be forced to take “substantial and often catastrophic” health care out of the country, in addition to the “substantially lower” premiums they currently receive in the US and Canada, according to The Irish Independent.

The AFI said the average annual premium on the ACA exchanges is between €9,800 and €11,000.

In the United State, premiums are currently at about $9,000 for an individual and $11,600 for a family of four.

A similar rate of $11 and $12 for individual and family premiums are expected to apply for 2019 in both the US as well as Canada.

On average, premiums in Ireland are at about €8,000 in the first year of operation, according the Department of Health.

A spokesperson for Mr Cowen said the Government had “worked hard to ensure that consumers are not put at a financial disadvantage” in a market which had “significantly lower” costs.

“It is important to recognise that farmers, farmers’ associations and other farmers are the most financially vulnerable,” the spokesperson said.

“The Government has invested in rural areas across the country to ensure farmers and other rural businesses have the best available access to a wide range of affordable health services.”

Mr O’Neil, who works for the AFI, said the price hikes were a major issue for rural Ireland.

“They’ve got a lot of farmers that are going to struggle,” he said.

“It’s going have a significant impact on the entire rural economy.”

He said the “real cost of the exchanges in the USA is far greater than any other country”.

“If you look at the US, it’s $9.5 trillion and the Canada it’s just over $11 trillion.

In Canada it would be just over €11 trillion.”

The figures quoted by Mr Cowden on Friday are “not a complete analysis” of the health insurance market in the country because there are differences in how the health systems operate.

“There are a lot more farmers and farmers’ organisations in the Republic of Ireland,” he added.

“We don’t have the same type of system.”

People have to pay a bit more in the way of the premiums, but there’s not a huge difference between a family farm and a business.

“The Department of Agriculture and Food, which administers the ACA, has already said that it expects a “significant impact” on the economy of the United Stated region, which includes Dublin and Cork.

However, it has warned farmers to be aware of the costs that they are facing.”

Farmers and other stakeholders will need to be mindful of the financial impact of the new health insurance arrangements for consumers in the regions,” a spokesperson for the Department said.