Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Speaking of Health Insurance

A lot of my friends and professional colleagues are freelancers, just like I am. Unlike me, many of them must buy their own health insurance because they are not covered by a spouse's policy.

One of the biggest obstacles to quitting an dead-end job or leaving an unhappy workplace is the health insurance obstacle: There's no getting around the fact that good coverage is harder to find and more expensive for freelancers and small business owners.

Here's an online marketplace where freelancers can compare and contrast policies, plans and providers. They recommend that the self-employed consider the following options when they are in the market for insurance:

COBRA: If you've just left your job or been downsized, you probably qualify for COBRA, which references the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 and allows you to stay on your employer-provided insurance for 18 months. It's likely to be cheaper than buying insurance on your own, though you will pay more than you paid as an employee for the same coverage. 
Private Health Insurance: After your COBRA expires, you may need to buy individual health coverage. Welcome to the world of options and price plans, which many experts say is nearly impossible to navigate because there is no consistent way to compare coverage across companies. If and when the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) goes into effect in 2014, your state must provide an online exchange, where you can look at many plans and pick the best for their budget and health needs. If you're young and healthy, and on a tight budget, you might consider a high deductible plan with low monthly payments.

Chamber of Commerce: Most people do not realize that their local Chamber of Commerce offers a small business insurance plan for its local business owners. Get in touch with your branch, see what they offer, and find out whether you have to become a member to get coverage. It might be worth it, not only for the insurance, but for the networking, marketing and other benefits provided.

Freelancers Union: Freelancers seeking health insurance might find what they are looking for with the Freelancers Union or their industry's professional association. The freelancer's group offers free membership and its sole purpose is to support freelancers across the country. You can even opt for dental and disability insurance if you choose. Depending on what industry you are working in, there may be a trade group or professional organization you can join that offers insurance at a better rate than you can get as an individual.

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