Despite the recent changes in the United States health insurance industry, most Americans have likely been protected from at least some of the confusion: because these people receive their health insurance through their employer, many people were able to simply switch over to their company’s new plan. Unfortunately, with an increasing number of businesses now preferring to hire freelancers, a steadily growing group was unable to take advantage of this situation. Left to search through plans with differing premiums, deductibles, provider networks and more, these freelancers faced a daunting task. Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act often only increased their confusion: while the federal deadline for compliance with the ACA isn’t until February 15, open enrollment for coverage beginning January 1, 2015 ended on December 15. This confusing deadline, which applies to freelancers as well as company employees, likely left some people who planned to take care of their insurance woes after New Year’s out in the cold.
Fortunately, many freelancers were able to procure health insurance, thanks to an online platform that helped this group of employees take the guesswork out of choosing a plan: launched by Freelancers Union, a national organization based in New York City, their National Benefits Platform allowed independent contractors in any field to search for plans by zip code. Users could then look for specific options, such as major medical insurance or vision coverage, based on a curated list of choices selected by researchers.
While Freelancers Union has only 250,000 members, the platform was available to any of the 53 million self-employed workers found across the United States. The platform’s experts designed the program for convenience, helping to identify between three and seven options that are likely to give the individual the most for their money. Additionally, the platform provides a helpful directory, allowing freelancers access to information on everything from a “medical home rider” to a “pharmacy tier.”
The National Benefits Platform is the first of the kind in the U.S., but Freelancers Union has been involved with health insurance options for over 10 years: beginning in 2001, the group began helping New York’s freelance community get coverage when the union made group plans, similar to employer plans, available to its members. While this program was eventually discarded due to changing laws, the organization started its own insurance company in 2008, which covers about 25,000 New York freelancers and operates two free medical clinics. But as far as the organization has come, it is still an impartial group: currently, Freelancers Union reports that it does not receive payment for their endorsements or signups on the platform.
But what about those who missed the sign-up deadline? While these freelancers will have to wait until the next open enrollment period, there are other options that can help them access medical care in the time being. Urgent care centers, for example, offer medical treatment for non-life-threatening conditions, have affordable co-pays, and do not require health insurance. Because of these reasons, urgent care clinics have become extremely popular throughout the U.S., with an estimated 160 million urgent care center visits taking place in the country annually.