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November 18, 2010 — Access to affordable and adequate health insurance is one of the biggest challenges independent journalists face.
At the urging of several members, the SEJ Freelance Task Force looked into whether SEJ could offer group health insurance benefits to its members.
Unfortunately, the task force concluded SEJ currently lacks the financial and staff resources needed to navigate the complexities of the health insurance industry, which is regulated on a state-by-state basis. Because health insurance brokers may not sell outside the states in which they are licensed, SEJ would have to establish relationships with brokers/insurers in every state in which a member lives – a time-consuming task for a small organization.
The Freelance Task Force, however, has compiled information to help the growing number of SEJ members who need to purchase health insurance.
Group Health Insurance Options
While SEJ is unable to offer group coverage, other organizations do. Unions, alumni associations, professional groups, and, in some states, the American Automobile Association, are among the organizations that offer their members group health insurance plans.
In Northern California, the California Media Workers Guild (TNG-CWA Local 39521) has formed a new unit called the Guild Freelancers that is now offering its "professional" members health insurance.
"Professional" is one of two classes of membership the guild offers for about $144 a year. This class is limited "to persons substantially engaged primarily in, and paid for, reporting and/or editing in either print, broadcast or online, blogging, books, poetry, technical writing, copy writing, design/illustration, audio/radio, photojournalism, video, multimedia, or web design/production."
Several writers' organizations have limited group plans, including the Authors' Guild, which offers health insurance to those living in New York and Massachusetts and the National Writers Union. NWU currently offers group health insurance to members residing in New York, but beginning in December plans on extending the benefits to members in other states.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of Science Writers also offer members' group health insurance. Other groups with group health plans include the National Association for the Self-Employed, Alliance for Affordable Services, and AARP for those that are 50 years and up. These groups, however, are advocacy groups that lobby lawmakers.
Health Insurance Reforms
Recently enacted U.S. health care legislation aims to make it easier for individuals and the self-employed to purchase health insurance and more difficult for insurers to deny coverage. While some rules already are in place, the most far-reaching of the reforms are not effective until Jan. 1, 2014.
In time, key provisions of the law will establish basic standards for health insurance benefits packages, bar insurers from establishing annual limits in certain plans, and prohibits insurers from restricting coverage or basing premiums on health status.
Congress provided $5 billion in 2010 to fund state-based temporary insurance programs for consumers denied coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions.
Insurance To Be Mandatory
By Jan. 1, 2014, the new law requires all individuals and their dependents to carry a minimum level of coverage or face annual penalties. States must establish health insurance exchanges by the same date to help individuals purchase health insurance at group rates. Income-based subsidies will be available to offset premiums, for qualified individuals.
All the plans must provide basic services, offer four specific types of plan categories, and make catastrophic coverage available for individuals under 30 years old.
Picking a Health Insurance Plan
Choosing a health insurance plan is daunting and expensive. Before you purchase, make sure you understand the various plan options and know your individual needs. Check with state health insurance regulators, or visit their websites, for state-specific requirements.
Websites that provide the basics about health insurance include:
- http://www.healthinsuranceinfo.net, sponsored by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute http://www.healthcarecoach.com, maintained by the nonprofit National Health Law Program;
- http://www.healthinsurance.org/learn/, a nonprofit sponsored website that provides consumers and the self-employed information on a variety of health insurance issues;
- http://www.familiesusa.org, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to helping Americans obtain high-quality, affordable health care; and
- http://www.coverageforall.org/about_us.htm, a San Jose, Calif.-based nonprofit that offers a variety of information and tools to help the uninsured.
Purchasing an Individual Plan
You can price health insurance through licensed agents/brokers who specialize in health plans. Be sure to check with your state insurance commissioner/regulator to verify the broker’s license and that the firm is in good standing.
Maintain Continuous Coverage
If at all possible, maintain whatever coverage you have until you purchase a new health insurance plan. A lapse in coverage could make it difficult to obtain new insurance, especially if you have a pre-existing condition, at least until the new reforms take effect in 2014.
Individuals who lose their benefits when leaving their jobs can pay to extend their health insurance coverage under COBRA for at least 18 months. After the COBRA continuation coverage ends, individuals have a one-time opportunity under a 1996 federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) to move to an individual plan offered by private insurers. State laws vary regarding which companies can sell the HIPPA coverage plans, but individuals will need to obtain a "Certificate of Continuous Coverage" from the company, or administrator of, that provided the COBRA insurance.
More information about COBRA and HIPPA is at:
- http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/cobra.htm, the Department of Labor website that explains COBRA insurance for workers who lose their health benefits and
- http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/portability.htm, the Labor Department website that details the individual health insurance coverage options under HIPPA.
The Kaiser Family Foundation tracks changes in health care and their impact on the uninsured.