Working independently offers a number of amazing benefits, from flexible schedules and “unlimited” vacation time to increased earning potential. Many traditional 9-5 workers fantasize about putting in their notice and setting up shop in a neighborhood coffee house, but a freelance writing career does lack one perk full-time employees take for granted: health insurance.
Ah, yes. Even freelancers tucked away in the comfort of their own homes fall ill from time to time. Winter often brings on a case of the sniffles, but life occasionally deals bigger blows that could necessitate a trip to the doctor’s office or the hospital. For readers outside the United States, health insurance is of very little concern, but for Americans, lack of insurance could invite a tidal wave of financial and health repercussions.
Whether you’re new to the freelance writing game or you’re simply determined to make your health a priority in 2016, use the following tips to navigate the tricky waters of health insurance for freelancers.
How to Buy Freelancer Health Insurance
Being self-employed certainly doesn’t mean health insurance is off the table, but as an entrepreneur, you don’t benefit from the savings traditional workers enjoy as part of a group insurance plan. If you thought PPOs and HMOs were confusing enough, try navigating the health insurance market solo. Yikes!
Of course, things are much easier today than they were in the past. The Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010, has rewritten the age-old rules of the insurance industry and made it possible for anyone to purchase insurance in a few simple clicks. For more information on self-employed insurance plans and the Health Insurance Marketplace, visit Healthcare.gov.
I Can’t Afford Insurance—Now What?
I spent several years living in Europe, where I was able to enjoy universal healthcare on a totally different scale. Moving back to the United States was a bit of a shock financially, even with the ACA in effect. I remember the first time I navigated through the Health Insurance Marketplace. My “affordable” monthly premiums were still several hundred dollars more than I could afford to spend. I took my chances and went without coverage.
If you do choose to forego insurance outright, it’s worth noting you’ll be liable for the penalty on your tax return. In 2016, that penalty is 2.5% of your annual income or $695 per adult, whichever is higher. Exemptions for this rule do exist, however, particularly if insurance is still unaffordable based on your income level.
Remember, you may also be eligible for coverage through a family member. Married couples enjoy joint healthcare coverage benefits, and some companies even extend benefits to unmarried partners. If you’re under the age of 26, you can also choose to enjoy coverage under your parents’ plan.
Exploring Low Cost Medical Options
Whether you ultimately choose to purchase health insurance or not, low cost medical options can help bridge the gap for any coverage holes. I’ve compiled a short list of tips below, many of which I’ve used personally to keep my medical costs in check.
Important Note: I am not a healthcare professional. This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. I am not liable for any advice provided below.
Use an Urgent Care Center
Heading to the emergency room when you’re not feeling well isn’t always the smartest idea. I went to the ER for chest pain in 2014 and after a quick examination, I was told I had heartburn. Yep, that was a nice relief, but the $2k medical bill that followed was not!
In the event of an emergency, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room immediately. For other medical assistance, consider visiting an urgent care center. These walk-in clinics can help treat a number of illnesses and problems, including the flu, minor broken bones, fevers, and more. Many urgent care centers also offer auxiliary services, such as x-rays, vaccinations, and physicals.
Look for an urgent care center in your area BEFORE a health issue occurs. The urgent care facility closest to me is just over a mile away and their cash rates start at $125. I wish I’d known that before visiting the hospital!
Negotiate Your Medical Bills
Sometimes visiting a medical professional is simply unavoidable, but a sky high medical bill isn’t the end of the story. Most hospitals and some private practitioners offer payment plans, hardship discounts, and income-based repayment options. If you’ve visited a hospital and received an unaffordable bill, contact the billing department as soon as possible to inquire about payment plans or income-based discounts.
When seeking other medical care, you’ll want to talk to the practitioner before making your appointment. Don’t visit the doctor and flake when it comes time to pay—that could invite a whole host of other problems. Instead, talk to your doctor about payment options in advance.
Finally, don’t give up when you hear “no.” Remember that $2k hospital bill I received? I called the billing department immediately after receiving my bill, and the person I spoke with told me I was ineligible for any income-based discounts. I instead made a payment plan and faithfully paid down the balance for several months. A few months before the end of the plan, when making a phone payment, the hospital representative asked why I hadn’t filed for income-based assistance. I explained that I was told I was ineligible. She admonished me for not filing the paperwork anyway, and said telling people they’re ineligible is a scare tactic, nothing more.
I filed the paperwork immediately and, while I wasn’t eligible for a discount on the large amount already paid, they did reduce my remaining balance by a few hundred dollars. Lesson learned!
Explore Discount Plans
Medical discount plans don’t function the same way as health insurance, but they can help you save on your regular medical visits. Many discount plans are available specifically for dental and vision. If you opt for one of these plans, you’ll need to stay in-network and visit practitioners who accept the discount card. Careington is one popular health discount plan provider you may want to consider. The last time I purchased glasses, I saved a few hundred dollars on my exam, prescription, and frames with this program.
Purchase Glasses Online
Even the best doctors in the world want to make a profit, and optometrists often make a large one on the frames they sell. I admittedly have a complicated prescription, but I had to pay $400 for my last pair of new glasses, after using the discount plan mentioned above!
If that weren’t painful enough, I managed to somehow knock my new glasses off my bedside table in the night a few weeks later. In my groggy state the next morning, I stepped on the frame, snapping it in two. Cruuuuuunch.
I definitely didn’t want to spend another $400 on a new pair, so I thought I’d try the online route. I ordered from EyeBuyDirect and spent about $80. If you’re lucky enough to have a “normal” prescription (I have progressive lenses), you can get them super cheap. Seriously, frames start at like $6. My sister also orders hers online, but she uses 39DollarGlasses.
Visit Your Doctor Online
Think visiting the doctor in person is the only option for treating common medical problems? Think again.
I recently wrote a piece for The Penny Hoarder, exploring my experience visiting the dermatologist online. I only paid $40 for my visit, and I received a comprehensive treatment plan, complete with a prescription. I used an iPhone app called Spruce to speak with my doctor, a Vanderbilt-educated physician with offices in NYC and San Francisco. In my experience, $40 is lower than the copay many insurance companies would charge for such a visit! Oh, and the entire process took only a few hours, from initial “visit” to prescription.
Dermatologists aren’t the only ones with telehealth options. Nurse practitioners and general physicians also offer online consultations. Simply perform a Google search to find programs available to you. From birth control prescriptions to help fighting the common cold, these services are fantastic. Oh, and they’re completely compliant with HIPAA 🙂
Save on Your Prescriptions
Nobody wants to shell out for an expensive prescription. Fortunately, there are a few different ways to save on costs at the pharmacy.
Prescription discount cards offer savings on many common drugs. Certain municipalities offer free prescription discount cards, so do your research to find programs you may be eligible for in your area. For example, in New York City, I can take advantage of a program called BigAppleRX, which saves me up to 50% on prescriptions at nearly any pharmacy in my neighborhood.
Before filling your prescription, conduct some research online to find drug prices in your area. Many pharmacies openly list drug prices. You can also use a comparison tool, such as GoodRx to look at pharmacy prices in your neighborhood. (GoodRx also offers a free discount card of its own.)
Finally, don’t overlook prices at warehouse stores! Prices for in-house pharmacies at Sam’s Club and Costco aren’t always included on GoodRx’s listings, but the savings can be phenomenal. Best of all, you do not need to be a club member to visit the pharmacy. I had a prescription filled recently at the Costco near my home for $14.52. The cheapest price at the Rite Aid near my apartment is $40. That’s a HUGE difference. Visit the Sam’s Club and Costco price lists for more information.
Don’t have a Costco near you? Have your doctor call in your prescription to their online clinic and they’ll send you your prescription by mail!
How do you save on your medical costs? Any tips for freelancers looking to save money on healthcare?