A new way for freelancers to find health insurance

December 11, 2014, 6:35 PM UTC
Doctors Seek Higher Fees From Health Insurers
BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 05: A doctor speaks with a patient about her high blood pressure, or hypertension, on September 5, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. Doctors in the country are demanding higher payments from health insurance companies (Krankenkassen). Over 20 doctors' associations are expected to hold a vote this week over possible strikes and temporary closings of their practices if assurances that a requested additional annual increase of 3.5 billion euros (4,390,475,550 USD) in payments are not provided. The Kassenaerztlichen Bundesvereinigung (KBV), the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, unexpectedly broke off talks with the health insurance companies on Monday. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Adam Berry—Getty Images

Anyone who’s tried to buy health insurance by searching online or through a government exchange knows how daunting it can be. You confront a seemingly limitless range of choices, each with its own premiums, deductibles, co-pays, provider networks, and other details, often buried in fine print.

So comparing all those plans, and trying to pick one, is a chore that busy people are tempted to put off until after the holidays. One source of confusion: The federal deadline for compliance with the Affordable Care Act health reform isn’t until February 15.“We’re hearing a lot of freelancers say, ‘I’ll deal with it after New Year’s,’” says Dan Lavoie, director of strategy at the Freelancers Union.

That would be a mistake. Open enrollment, which under the new law is now uniform across every company and every state, applies to freelancers as well as to company employees. For coverage that starts January 1, 2015, everyone has to sign up by Monday, December 15.

Yes, that is next Monday. But, if you’re self-employed and haven’t gotten around to this yet, don’t panic. Freelancers Union, a nationwide organization based in New York City with about 250,000 members, has launched a National Benefits Platform where independent contractors in any field, anywhere in the country, can search by zip code for a list of choices — everything from major medical to vision insurance to retirement plans. Freelancers Union benefits experts have already vetted and endorsed these plans.

Depending on what’s available to residents of any given state, the researchers hand-picked a small number of carriers, usually between three and seven, and selected policies likely to give freelancers the most bang for the buck. “We wanted to give people a range of options, but without overwhelming them,” says Lavoie. In addition, anyone who needs a crash course in insurance jargon — like what an “out of pocket maximum,” a “medical home rider,” or a “pharmacy tier” is, exactly — can look it up. Freelancers Union said that it does not receive payment in exchange for endorsements or signups.

Although this site is the first of its kind in the U.S., Freelancers Union has been dealing with health insurance for more than a decade. It started helping New York’s huge freelance community get coverage in 2001, when the union made group plans, like the ones employers typically offer, available to its members.

Current law no longer allows trade or professional associations to do that, but in 2008, Freelancers Union started its own insurance company, which covers about 25,000 New York freelancers and their families, and operates two free medical centers in the Big Apple. Freelancers Union plans to open more of those centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities beginning in 2015.

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