We’ve had a lot of questions come in over the past few weeks about how we survive as freelance writers. We’ve heard it all.
“How do you make enough money to eat?”
“How does freelance insurance work?”
“Do you have to pay taxes?”
Well, those are actually all good questions. And we’ve covered a few of them recently, but figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tell you a bit about freelance insurance.
There’s technically no such thing as freelance insurance, but that doesn’t mean that if we get sick we’re in trouble. There are a few options available to freelance writers, and none of us are six feet under just yet. So how do we do it? Here are all our trade secrets.
Uncle Sam’s Freelance Insurance
Yup, that’s right. If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, your best bet is through your state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid is based on your income, and if you make less than, say, $2,000 per month, you’re eligible.
There are a few restrictions, but not too many. Basically, if you’re running from the law for one charge or another, or if you’re behind on child support, Medicaid probably isn’t going to work out for you. But for everyone else, if your income falls within the state guidelines, you’re set.
Medicaid is pretty comprehensive, covering many key things for writers, including loss of sight, but there are a few things it won’t cover. Some states don’t include vision or dental insurance in Medicaid plans, and most states won’t cover things like medical marijuana. Not yet, anyway.
To apply for Medicaid, visit your local Department of Social Services, or you can apply online.
Freelancer’s Union doesn’t itself provide insurance, but they do provide good information about how to set yourself up with “freelance insurance.” You’ll enter some basic information about yourself, like your location and your age, and the website will direct you to resources to help you.
While we’re on the subject of Freelancer’s Union, though, we’d like to point out that they do offer quite a few resources for freelancers. When you visit their website, you’ll see quite a few articles about things like how to do taxes, how to file for health insurance and how to collect money from clients who won’t pay.
Freelancer’s Union is actually a nice little compilation of useful tips and information for freelancers, so if you’re just starting out, stop by and check it out.
Supplemental Freelance Insurance
There are companies which will provide insurance packages to freelancers on an “as needed” basis. You’ll still pay a monthly premium, but the premium is significantly lower than traditional insurance because you get to pick and choose what you pay for.
These are called supplemental insurance products, and you’ve probably seen them before. Surely the Aflac lady has visited you at work, and you got to choose between, for example, $4 per month for dental insurance or $7 per month to make sure you’re covered in the event of an emergency room visit.
The Aflac lady can visit you at home, too. Mind you, we’re not in any way affiliated with Aflac, and there are other companies out there which provide this service, but the duck is by far the most widely recognized one.
If you can qualify for Medicaid or purchase insurance through a private company, we recommend that you do that first. Supplemental insurance is designed to do exactly what its name implies – supplement your comprehensive insurance.
Private Freelance Insurance
This is where it gets sticky, but we’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. When Obama introduced the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), things got a little complicated. The intent was to streamline the insurance process, and make health insurance more affordable for everyone. Instead, it made Medicaid and other state programs inaccessible to us broke people, and was entirely too expensive for most.
The Obamacare plan was that everyone have health insurance, or risk paying a penalty come April 15. But in the end, Americans decided that it was just cheaper to pay the stupid penalty than to buy the insurance in the first place. It wasn’t unusual for someone filing head of household with two dependents (read: single mom of two kids) to be quoted a monthly premium of $600. That’s right, monthly.
But, to make a long story short, it made things a little difficult for the insurers, too. Blue Cross Blue Shield became the biggest player in the health insurance market, but they had restrictions, as did health care providers, and so on. So what we ended up with was a huge, unrefined mess where doctors were limited in what they could and would do, insurance providers were thus limited in what they could cover, and the uninsured remained as such.
All that said, if you’d like to purchase private insurance, which is probably the most likely option for those of us making over $50,000 each year, then you’ll need to do some research. You can start your research at a nonprofit like the Kaiser Family Foundation, or you can check out the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.
These sites certainly won’t tell you which insurance company you should choose, but they’ll give you a head start in making your own informed decision.
Go Cheap on Healthcare
There’s this awkward space between qualifying for Medicaid and being able to afford private insurance. That space is called “hope and pray.” And some of us do choose to live in that space.
Not everyone will fit into one of the above freelance insurance categories. But the good news is that if you do get sick, it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.
Your local health department offers free and inexpensive health care and vaccinations. Emergency rooms will work with you on billing. And your town probably has a Minute Clinic or FastMed. You can pop in if you need a flu shot or if you get strep.
If by some unfortunate turn of events you do land in the hospital for surgery or another event, the hospital itself may be able to work with you. Duke University Medical Center, for example, has a program called charity care. Hospitals may forgive your debt if you meet certain income requirements.
So, to summarize, freelance insurance doesn’t really exist, but that doesn’t mean you’ll die of mad cow disease. Instead, research your options and you’ll find that there’s an insurance plan which will work for your specific needs. And if not, you’ll still probably be okay.