Being a freelancer comes with a lot of benefits. You often get a substantial amount of control over your schedule. You can decide what kind of work you want to do, and may even be able to set your own prices. However, gig workers don’t automatically have access to certain kinds of insurance. Usually, professionals secure their medical, disability, unemployment, and other forms of coverage through their employer. Unfortunately, gig workers don’t have a company to rely on. Luckily, that doesn’t mean freelancers have to go uninsured.
How to Find Insurance When You’re a Gig Worker
If you are a gig worker and aren’t an official employee of any company, you classify as self-employed. You are essentially a business of one, with you being the sole employee.
While it may feel like being self-employed is a rarity, gig workers, freelancers, and similar professionals are becoming increasingly common. In fact, approximately 36 percent of the workforce freelances. Even though some do so in conjunction with a full-time, traditional job.
When you look for insurance, you need to explore options that are available to self-employed individuals or anyone who isn’t eligible for coverage through an employer-based group plan.
Where to Look for Medical Insurance as a Freelancer
In many cases, medical insurance is one of the easiest forms of insurance to find. If you don’t know where to begin, you should first determine if you qualify for Medicaid.
Medicaid is a state-run program that provides coverage to eligible, low-income adults and families, individuals with disabilities, and many more members of the population. Depending on your household income level and family size, you may qualify for coverage through Medicare. It’s always smart to look their first.
If your income level is too high, the exchanges created in response to the Affordable Care Act are another good place to start. You can learn about plans available in your state. These plans include some low-cost options that can provide you with some barebones coverage. With plans like these, you are at least somewhat protected.
However, if you belong to a professional organization or trade association, you may be able to participate in a group coverage plan through them. This can significantly lower the cost of suitable coverage, though you may have to pay membership dues to access the plan.
Finally, you may have access to plans through companies you use. For example, USAA members can find health insurance options through USAA, potentially allowing them to save money.
Usually, medical insurance also offers some prescription drug coverage as well. However, that isn’t always the case. Make sure to read your plan details thoroughly if prescription drug coverage is a major concern.
Additionally, you may be able to find dental and vision coverage through some of the sources above. Professional organizations and trade associations are a great place to start your search. However, if you don’t find a suitable option, then you can also seek these out separately through a quick internet search.
Where to Look for Disability Insurance
Disability insurance provides a reliable source of money to support you if you become unable to work because of an illness or injury. Short-term policies can help cover your expenses while you get back on your feet while long-term options provide access to funds if you have to stop working permanently.
Gig workers do have the ability to gain access to Social Security disability-related benefits. However, you do have to contribute, usually by paying your federal taxes. The “self-employment tax” includes payments into the Social Security system, and paying your taxes helps you earn credits that make you eligible for benefits, should the need arise.
However, Social Security isn’t your only option. In most cases, private disability insurance – plans not associated with Social Security – is somewhat supplemental, so it is easy to find even if you are a gig worker.
For example, companies like Aflac offer supplemental insurance plans, including short-term disability options, to self-employed individuals. As long as you can afford the payments and otherwise qualify for the program, nearly anyone can get coverage.
What About Unemployment Insurance for Gig Workers?
By and large, self-employed workers aren’t eligible for unemployment. If you receive a 1099 instead of a W-2 come tax time, you probably didn’t contribute into your state’s unemployment insurance program, making you largely ineligible.
The only exception tends to be in the event of a natural disaster. If you are unable to work because of a Presidentially-declared major disaster, you could be eligible for assistance through the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program. This federal program provides short-term financial support to anyone who can’t work because of a disaster and is otherwise ineligible for state unemployment benefits.
Otherwise, most gig workers need to plan ahead for potential unemployment on their own. Usually, putting additional money into an emergency fund is the best (and may be the only) option.
Can You Skip Insurance as a Gig Worker?
If the cost of insurance seems hard to shoulder, you may be tempted to skip it. However, health insurance is still mandatory, and not securing coverage can lead to high fees.
Luckily, if you have a low income, you may qualify for Medicare or financial assistance to make the costs more manageable. Make sure to check through your insurance exchange to see if you are eligible for a reduced rate and make an effort to keep your coverage all year. Otherwise, you’ll pay a penalty when you file your taxes, and that could exceed the amount of actually paying for the required level of coverage.
Ultimately, finding insurance as a gig worker can be challenging, especially when compared to securing insurance through an employer. However, it is possible to obtain coverage, though it does require some diligence.
Have you purchased insurance as a gig worker? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.