One of the best aspects of being a freelancer is the freedom to choose how you work. Want to spend each month in a different city? Work from home with your dog curled at your side? Take on three month projects and then take the next month off? However, that freedom and flexibility can come with additional challenges that full-time employees don’t have to deal with.
Take health insurance. Freelancers can’t rely on employer benefits to cover them—they are responsible for insuring themselves. Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, it could be tough for freelancers to access health insurance plans that were affordable and fulfilled their needs. The ACA significantly opened up the insurance markets to freelancers, and despite political battles in Capitol Hill, the law remains intact. However, navigating the health insurance exchanges as a freelancer can be tricky.
Here are some tips on where to look for health insurance as a freelance worker, and how to get the most out of your plan. Remember: open enrollment for healthcare coverage typically begins in November of each year. be sure to check with your provider and state to make sure you meet any necessary deadlines.
The Freelancers Union
Open to freelancers, consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, contingent employees and the self-employed, the Freelancers Union offers a range of healthcare plans through the National Benefits Platform. You must be a member of the Freelancers Union to access their healthcare plans, benefits and discounts, but membership is free and all that’s required is a completed registration form. This group has over 20 years of experience helping freelancers to find the right insurance plan.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a Obamacare
Under the ACA, there are plans available to suit various budgets and healthcare needs. Catastrophic plans are an affordable option for freelancers under 30 years old. However, because these plans are primarily designed to cover major medical emergencies, they are often best for healthy individuals who don’t visit the doctor often. Other plans are tiered: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Higher metal tiers typically have more expensive monthly premiums, but you’ll pay less for covered services. Lower tiers have cheaper monthly premiums, but you pay much more for covered medical expenses. And remember, the ACA made it illegal for insurance companies to charge higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions.
If you make under $45k as an individual, or under $94,200 for a family of four, you might be eligible for a subsidy or a tax credit towards your healthcare plan. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful subsidy calculator that will give you an estimate of what subsidies you may qualify for.
Professional associations, business groups, or your local chamber of commerce
Group insurance enables individuals to band together as members of a certain association or group, and offers the type of insurance you would get through an employer. If you work in a profession that has associations, or if you become a member of an independent worker association, you might be eligible for this type of group insurance.
Your spouse or domestic partner’s health insurance plan
If this is an option for you, it’s potentially a great one. Even if you aren’t legally married, you could still qualify as a domestic partner if you share a home and a domestic life together. There aren’t any federal guidelines that define what a domestic partnership is, so check the requirements of your individual state. Some health insurance plans will add you for free, while others may require you to pay your portion of the premium. If you find you’ll have to pay your portion of the premium, be sure to do a cost comparison as some of the other options listed here may be more cost effective.
Flat-fee primary care
“Direct primary care” is a relatively new approach to healthcare. For a fixed monthly fee of $50 to $150, patients get unlimited medical services as opposed to paying for every office visit and lab test. Typically, direct primary care physicians don’t accept insurance, which allows them to avoid treatment preapprovals from insurers and all of the paperwork associated with insurance claims. They say this enables them to devote more time and energy to their patients. It’s important to note that patients who sign up for these plans must still have a regular health insurance plan (often a high-deductible policy) to cover things like hospitalizations and consultations with specialists.
A few additional healthcare tips for freelancers:
DO find out what your plan offers for free
Take advantage of the free preventative care included in many plans, such as annual physicals, well-woman exams, certain kinds of lab work and vaccinations, birth control, and screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies.
DO choose generic prescription drugs
Savings can be significant when you opt for a generic medication instead of a name brand drug. Many health plans will pay for generic drugs or cover them with an inexpensive copayment.
DO consider Urgent Care
Most urgent care clinics are able to treat moderate conditions like cuts, burns, common skin issues, and bone fractures. If your health insurance plan has a high deductible or doesn’t cover some medical services, an urgent care clinic can be a great, affordable alternative under certain circumstances. Most urgent care clinics take walk-ins, which is more convenient than waiting days for a doctor’s appointment. Of course, if you’re experiencing a true emergency, the best bet is always to head to the nearest hospital.
DON’T opt for a short-term plan
Some freelancers attempt to cut their healthcare costs by piecing together a few short-term health plans. Though these plans generally offer more affordable monthly premiums, they are designed only to provide temporary healthcare during unexpected gaps in coverage. Because these plans do not meet the minimum essential coverage requirements under the ACA, you will still have to pay the Obamacare tax penalty. Short-terms plans aren’t a substitute for a regular health insurance plan.