Membership Organizations and Health Insurance

How to Get Group Health Insurance Through a Membership Organization

Image shows two people speaking over a table; one person is asking for information from the other. Text reads: "What to know: getting group health insurance through a membership organization: Group insurance rates have lower premiums because the risk is spread out among a group of members, making it a better option than individual health insurance. Association health plans allow members of a group or profession to band together in order to negotiate better premiums for their members (don't necessarily need to be under same employer); Unions, alumni associations, and professional organizations are a few membership groups that provide benefits to members"

Image by Nusha Ashjaee © The Balance 2020

Many people obtain health insurance coverage through their employers. This type of coverage is called group health insurance coverage because, as a group, all the employees are pooled together to obtain low-cost health insurance with group rates. Group insurance rates have lower premiums because the risk is spread out among the group of members. In addition, the employer may contribute to the premium, so the employee pays less. If your employer doesn't offer group health insurance—or you are unemployed, self-employed, or a freelance worker—you may want to look into a good group health insurance plan through a membership organization.

What Is a Membership Organization?

A membership organization is a group that is dedicated to providing resources and benefits to its members, which may be defined as those sharing a common interest, trade, or profession.

Looking for Group Health Insurance

Many membership organizations offer group health insurance coverage or services to their members. As a member of a group, you may be eligible for discounts on your health insurance or access to a group health insurance plan—even if unemployed—because the group insurance is based on the membership in the group and not your employer.

Additional benefits may include discounts in various services or at stores, continuing education opportunities, access to periodicals, and group health insurance or supplemental health insurance benefits and group discounts.

What Are Membership or Association Health Plans?

Group membership sponsored health plans may also be known as association health plans. Association health plans allow members of a group or profession to band together to negotiate better premiums for their members, similar to how an employer-sponsored health plan would work. The members of an association or group do not work for the same employer. Instead, they share an industry, interest, or other common thread that allows them to define themselves as an association.

When shopping for membership-based group health insurance, keep in mind that the coverage may not be ACA compliant. Before deciding on a plan, compare the coverages carefully to what you could get through the marketplace.

How Can I Find Health Insurance Through a Group Membership Organization?

The first thing to do is to think about groups where you may already be a member or be eligible for membership—for example, unions, alumni associations, or professional organizations, including your local chamber of commerce.

Most freelance writers have heard of the Writers Guild of America. They are a membership organization dedicated to providing resources and benefits to professional writers. Among their many benefits, they may provide group health insurance to their members. They do have very strict guidelines for being a member, but their organization is just one of many available that provides group health insurance.

Examples of Places to Get Health Insurance Through Group Membership, Trade, or Professional Organizations

  • AARP Health—offers several options in supplemental health care benefits
  • Alliance for Affordable Services
  • Affiliated Workers Association (AWA)
  • American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) - offers medical insurance if you travel abroad but no longer offers standard medical benefits due to changes with the ACA.
  • Association for Computing Machinery—for computing professionals
  • Costco Health Insurance Marketplace
  • Freelancers Union—offers free membership and a variety of resources to freelancers
  • Writers Guild of America.

Group Membership Resources for Health Insurance and Supplemental Health Policies

Although this organization does not directly provide health insurance, it has invested significant effort to help artists get affordable insurance: Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center. The Small Business Service Bureau, a national organization, also provides similar help to its members.

Members of the National Small Business Association can also have access to group insurance in long term care, disability income insurance, and life insurance.

Employer Health Insurance vs. Individual Health Insurance, and Health Insurance Through a Membership Organization

If you are looking for a group health insurance plan, your employer or your domestic partner's employer may be able to benefit you. Many employers help pay a percentage of the health insurance premium, and this can save you money. They may also contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for you, and this will also save you money as well as build savings. 

Obtaining health insurance through a membership organization may be a better option than individual health insurance because the concept of group insurance is to provide an advantage to its members by offering lower premiums.

Overall, with the current healthcare situation and the constant potential of revision to health laws, it is always going to pay off to check all the possible options.

Changes to Association Health Plans and Membership Group Health Insurance Since the ACA

It was once more common to find a health plan through group membership or association. This earlier convenience was because a national association could, for example, choose which state's health insurance rules they followed when creating their plans. This flexibility allowed for more adaptability in coverage options for each organization.

Such a system may sound good on some levels, but it also caused a problem in the quality of health care plans the associations were providing as there was no standard. So, the ACA changed this requiring plans to cover what was mandated by law, such as essential services. With these changes, some organizations that previously provided health plans discontinued or shifted their focus to supplemental health plans.

However, organizations and membership groups still offer plans, help, and services to their members. It is worth finding out if you can take advantage of a group membership plan to save money on your insurance costs if available to you. 

The best way to save money on health insurance is to shop around and learn about your options and how they compare to what you and your family need.

Many people do not realize there are programs out there that can help when it's tough to find affordable insurance. If you are looking for other ways to save money on health insurance check, out the benefits of using an HSA or find out more about Medicare vs. Medicaid and who may qualify.