How To Find Health Insurance When Freelancing or Self-Employed

You have several options if you work in the gig economy

Image shows a girl on the computer in pajamas. Text reads: "Five options for self-employed healthcare: affordable care act (ACA); your spouse; cobra coverage; the freelancers union; professional associations"

Emilie Dunphy / The Balance

A freelance worker, independent contractor, or self-employed person is someone who does business on their own and is not a company employee. If you're self-employed, you might enjoy benefits like flexibility and a better work-life balance. But you also have to manage all aspects of your benefits yourself—like health insurance.

Health care is an essential consideration no matter who you are, but may be overlooked if you're self-employed, especially if you're used to getting coverage through an employer. Fortunately, you have options. And you may even qualify for a better plan or lower premium than you could with an employer.

Key Takeaways

  • Freelancers and other people without health insurance can buy it in the Health Insurance Marketplace, which is operated under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or "Obamacare."
  • If you recently left a position, you may be eligible for COBRA coverage for up to 36 months, or you can look into some professional associations.
  • Short-term health insurance plans provide some basic, temporary coverage, but they don't meet the standards of the ACA.
  • Health insurance is based on many factors; this means your personal situation and needs are crucial in finding the best plan for you.

How Much Does Health Insurance Cost for Freelancers?

Everyone's health insurance rates vary. Before you worry about how much health insurance costs, consider this: according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average lowest-cost bronze tier premium is $328 and the average lowest-cost gold tier premium is $482. Besides Health Insurance Marketplace plans, you also have other options to find affordable health insurance.

Where To Get Health Insurance If You're Self-Employed

A major challenge facing independent, self-employed, and freelance workers is finding affordable health insurance. Luckily, there are several options to choose from. With a little research, you can find a good plan to protect your health and get care when you need it. 

1. Health Insurance Marketplace

Ever since the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or "Obamacare," came into effect, people have been able to find health insurance through the Marketplace at Healthcare.gov or through their state's health insurance marketplace. You may be able to do so as either an individual or as a small business.

Marketplace health insurance plans are divided into four categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Each category shows how you and your plan share costs. Open enrollment for ACA plans generally begins in November and plans purchased by mid-December begin on January 1 of the following year. So if you enrolled by December 15, 2021, your coverage would begin on January 1, 2022. Beginning in 2021, open enrollment itself was extended through mid January of the following year.

Depending on your family size and income, you could qualify for premium tax credits that reduce the cost of your Marketplace plan. Visit the plan finder at Healthcare.gov to find out.

If you miss open enrollment, you can visit the Marketplace and see if you qualify for a special enrollment period. Certain life changes and circumstances, such as a marriage, the birth of a child, or the loss of an employer plan, make it possible for you to qualify outside the open enrollment period for health insurance. You can also get health coverage if you qualify for Medicaid.

2. Your Spouse or Domestic Partner's Plan

If your spouse works and has coverage through their job, you may be able to join their plan. Because it's an employer-based plan, it may also save you money. It may charge a lower premium since the employer will usually pay into the plan.

Even if you are not married, you may qualify as a domestic partner if you share the same home and live a domestic life together. But you cannot be legally married to anyone else.

3. COBRA Coverage

If you recently left or are about to leave your full-time job to become self-employed, you may be able to continue your current coverage for at least 18 months. Your plan provider will inform you of your eligibility for COBRA coverage.

Note

"COBRA" is short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It allows you to continue your health insurance coverage for up to 36 months when your group health insurance would otherwise be lost.

Individual COBRA plans are often more expensive than what you paid while working because your employer is no longer contributing to the premium. They may also be more expensive than a Marketplace plan. Keep in mind that if you are leaving your job, you probably qualify for a special enrollment period. In other words, you could enroll in a Marketplace plan outside of the general open enrollment period in the fall. Be sure to compare options, and remember that COBRA is temporary coverage.

4. Professional Associations

In some fields, your profession may have associations. Or, you might become a member of a self-employed worker or independent worker association. In those cases, you may be able to get group insurance through these kinds of memberships.

Group insurance allows individuals to band together as members of a group (of self-employed workers). This could be similar to group insurance through an employer. One example of a group that offers a health insurance plan is the Freelancers Union. The group also offers dental coverage and term life insurance; it also offers other options.

5. Short-Term or Temporary Insurance

A short-term, or "limited duration," health insurance plan may be a temporary option to consider if you missed the open enrollment period and want to be covered until you get a different plan. Short-term plans typically provide basic, temporary coverage for medical emergencies and not necessarily everyday medical care or prevention.

Short-term health insurance plans are not ACA-compliant, meaning that they do not provide the minimum essential health coverage provided by health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

How Can You Cut Health Insurance Costs?

If you find the plan prices too costly, you could look into a high deductible health plan (HDHP). Or, you may want to choose a lower tier in the marketplace. You can also talk to a health insurance broker who represents several companies and can search health plans for you. The more you shop for your health insurance, the more likely you are to save money.