Health insurance for freelancers: Know what you need

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer will share personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

Q: Why did the insurance executive cross the road?

A: Who cares? Good riddance!

I’m not a fan of insurance companies. Could you tell? At best, most insurance seems to me to be a form of legalized gambling. They gamble you’ll pay up and not need them, and you gamble that you will.

I make a grudging exception for my current supplementary health insurance provider, the ACTRA Fraternal Benefits Society (AFBS). I just noticed that AFBS is underwriting the health and dental benefits offered to Canadian Media Guild members through the Writers’ Coalition, and it got me to thinking about them.

I’m not an advocate of a two-tiered system. This is not about that. Like most Canadians I am proud of our public health care system. To me it helps define what is best about this country and what is so very wrong about other similar countries without its equivalent. I will fight to keep it universal and I will fight to keep it strong. For many years I never thought about augmenting it with so called supplementary coverage. My needs were minimal. But time passed and my needs increased while public coverage started cutting back. It made more and more sense.

As a freelancer my health is everything. If I’m not well enough to work, I am in deep trouble. I have no sick leave, no accumulated holidays, no office coverage. My health is something I can never afford to compromise.

Several years ago I looked around and determined that the AFBS provided the best deal for me to augment my province’s public health care. Unlike traditional for-profit insurance companies, the AFBS is a kind of not-for-profit fraternal organization that owes its responsibility to its member clients and not to some anonymous stockholders. I liked that.

But no single insurance provider is going to be right for everyone. There’s no way around ityou’re going to have to look into three or four different companies (including AFBS) and compare what they can offer you. Some may not even want to talk to you once they discover you are a freelancer! It will take a couple hours of your life online and on the phone that you will never get back, but they could become the most important couple hours you invest in your well-being this year.

Sit down and ask yourself what your specific requirements are, exactly, and what are they likely to become as time goes by. Do your projected costs beyond the public health care system (prescriptions, etc.) exceed what you might pay in premiums? If they even come close, I’d certainly start to think about it. Another biggie to ask yourself: Do I have enough savings to withstand a medical emergency if I don’t have additional coverage? (And do I have any family history that might make me think seriously about that?)

Questions I’d ask a potential supplementary health insurance provider would include:

  • Will they cover pre-existing conditions?
  • Is there a cap on total annual pay outs?
  • What percentage of prescription drug costs or other prescribed medical necessities is covered?
  • Are there any special medical needs that they will not cover or that they exclude?
  • Is disability coverage or life insurance included?
  • Is dental care covered?
  • Do they cover alternative health modalities (physio, shiatsu, acupuncture, etc.)
  • How quickly are payments arranged?
  • Is it fully or partially deductible as a business expense? (You may find added benefits when it comes to tax time.)

There are many other relevant questions. What’s necessary to you will be different from what I consider necessary. If you have a dependent partner or children, for example, you will definitely need to include them in your calculations.

Only you can decide if what sort of plan is the best deal or the right one for you. In my case I pay less expensive premiums than those quoted on the CMG link and have a better coverage package. But I qualified through membership in another allied guild that also uses AFBS to cover its membership. If you also qualify for coverage with any underwriter through your membership in another guild or union I would definitely explore and compare that option too. In theory the more of your union’s members who join AFBS, the more comprehensive and eventually more inexpensive their member coverage will be.

Not every freelancer will decide to get supplementary coverage. You may not feel it is affordable or worth the money. Your call, of course. But I think you should at least look into it and make an informed decision for yourself. I’ve never regretted that I did.

And if you’re paying for additional health insurance don’t forget when you negotiate with clients to try to get a better fee to reflect it. You can even point out that it is an absolute advantage to them. Your good health helps guarantee that the work will be done well and on schedule.

What are your experiences? Horror stories or happy results, we’d like to hear them all.

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 7:30 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Written by Susan Swan
    on May 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Are you recommending the Writers’ Coalition or saying that it’s premiums are too expensive? Here’s why I’m frustrated: I wish you had mentioned that the free lance members of Writers’ Coalition cannot get part of their fees tithed the way that actors and screenwriters can. So that is why our premiums at Writers’ Coalition are slightly more expensive for free lancers than the Writers’ Guild. Unfortunately, there are too many various and different producers for our free lance writers to get their fees tithed in a standardized way.

    I founded the Writers’ Coalition with AFBS in 2009. Maybe you could do another story about us and explain who we are next time around. We now offer benefits to over 28,000 self-employed people in the arts, not just writers.

  2. Written by The Born Freelancer
    on May 18, 2011 at 12:00 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Thank you Susan for your comments. I’m sorry you found my post frustrating. To recap: Based upon my own personal experience I would recommend freelancers actively consider the benefits of supplementary health insurance. But everyone has vastly different circumstances and so it would be impossible for me to offer a single, specific recommendation that is ideal for every freelancer. Everyone has to do their own extensive research. This should involve considering the plan available through the WC as well as others including those offered through allied guild memberships if applicable. I am not saying your premiums are too expensive. All I was pointing out was that I have had good experience with the AFBS but through membership in another guild. This means I pay different premiums and receive a different health care package. Of course there are reasons for the differences as you have pointed out. My understanding is also that (in theory) any coverage package should eventually become broader and its premiums lower as more members join. This may be an added incentive for some freelancers. Finally, I would be delighted to talk to you in future about a followup post on the WC. In fact, I look forward to it.

  3. Written by Colorado health insurance
    on February 1, 2012 at 10:54 am
    Reply · Permalink

    The first and most important step in the process of looking for a health insurer is looking for a insurance website that can help you with getting multiple quotes from a variety of private health care insurance providers. There are numerous websites on the internet that can furnish you with the details you need, however it makes sense to go with someone you can trust and someone who have been in the market for a while.

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