In these tough economic times, lots of workers who have been laid off have opted to start their own businesses rather than seek new corporate jobs. While this choice can be enormously satisfying and empowering, it comes with significant disadvantages, and one of them is finding health insurance self employed alternatives.
Some 2.6 million independent workers have individual policies, while 3.5 million get health insurance through their own business group policy, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute. The following suggestions can help anyone who’s currently self-employed or intends to start a business in the near future identify health insurance options.
If you have the time to plan your departure from a corporate job, then consider maintaining health insurance coverage through the company’s group policy. All workers whose employers have 20 or more employees have this right under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1986. COBRA provides that unless they’re fired, former employees can keep their group coverage for up to 18 months after leaving their employers.
This option comes with a hefty price tag, however, since self-employed people must pay the full premium cost of their health care insurance. Most employees pay an average of 28 percent of their insurance premiums, while their employers pick up the rest of the tab. Taking on that additional 72 percent can put a big dent in the wallet. Details on COBRA are available through human resources or from the US Department of Labor.
Rely on Your Spouse. Many self-employed people swear by an old saying: The best way for a freelancer to be successful is to have a spouse who works as an employee. This is especially true when it comes to health insurance in the United States, where some 3.3 million self employed workers are covered by their spouse’s health insurance. It’s likely that signing up under an employed spouse’s health plan will be much less expensive than many other options, including coverage through COBRA.
If you’re single, or your employed spouse has no health insurance, then you’re forced to strike out on your own. This means doing research, and a lot of it. There are two options here: buying health care coverage on your own through the Internet, or working with an insurance agent. The do-it-yourself route requires more work, because even with the many websites that offer insurance comparisons, the individual still has to do the math on prices and coverages. There’s also work involved engaging an insurance agent. The wise consumer interviews at least three agents, and checks the performance of all of them through the state insurance commissioner’s office.
Whether going it alone or working through an insurance agent, don’t make any deals until you’ve thoroughly investigated the performance of your most likely candidate for health insurance. An insurance company with lousy customer service, even if its prices are the lowest, is no bargain. The state insurance commissioner’s website typically provides information on how many customer complaints an insurance company receives, and what those complaints entailed. If the health insurance company you’re considering has a poor service record, move on to a new candidate.
Finally, although you’re working for yourself, don’t forget the strength of numbers. Many self-employed people find that it helps enormously to seek health care coverage through professional organizations. Two of the top organizations in this regard are the National Association of the Self-Employed for independent contractors and the National Association of Professional Employer Associations for business owners. Either can provide additional information on finding health insurance self employed alternatives.