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Health Insurance Options for Self-Employed Workers: What’s Available?

Aug 09, 2021 3 min read Zina Kumok

Key takeaways

  • Freelancers and other self-employed people may have a harder time choosing a health insurance plan but they have options.
  • Depending on income, some freelancers qualify for subsidies on the federal health insurance marketplace.
  • Joining a group or union in your industry may give you access to health insurance plans.


There are many perks to being a freelancer or other self-employed professional: For example, you may have more business autonomy and enjoy greater work-life flexibility. But health insurance options for self-employed people can be tricky.

It can be hard to navigate the health insurance landscape without employer-subsidized options. In fact, a study published in 2020 Opens in new window found that one-quarter of self-employed individuals did not have health insurance. Without it, however, you potentially open yourself up to huge medical bills in the case of an unexpected illness or injury.

Learn how to find options and where to find the most affordable health insurance plans.



Look at the health care marketplace options

The federal health insurance marketplace offers options for self-employed workers or freelancers. If you make 400% or less Opens in new window of the federal poverty guidelines, you’ll also qualify for a subsidy to minimize the cost.

The marketplace has an open enrollment period that starts Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15 each year. This is when you can add a plan or change plans. It’s also the only time you can purchase from the federal marketplace, unless you have a special qualifying event Opens in new window like marriage, the birth of a child or a move to a new ZIP code. (For 2022, the window has been extended Opens in new window until Jan. 15, 2022, but coverage you sign up for after Dec. 15, 2021, won’t start on Jan. 1.) However, a few states have their own marketplaces, so if you live in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you’ll apply through your state’s marketplace rather than the federal marketplace.


Join a group or union

If you belong to an organization for freelancers or self-employed people, see if they offer a group self-employed health insurance plan. They may have lower rates than the health care marketplace, similar to how an employer offers lower group rates to employees.

If you’re not part of a group for freelancers or self-employed people, an independent insurance agent may be able to help. Also ask other people in your line of work if they’re part of such groups, and do your research. You may even find several groups that offer insurance plans, so compare options and see what makes sense. Be sure to weigh copayments, deductibles and the size of the provider network available under each plan. You never know what you might find—and how much money you might save.


Use a spouse or domestic partner's coverage

If you’re married or are in a domestic partnership, you may have access to health insurance through your spouse or partner. This depends on their employer’s health insurance options, but it may be an option.

This health insurance may be expensive, but it may be less expensive than in the health care marketplace. If you want to join your spouse or partner’s coverage, you may have to wait until open enrollment or until they have a qualifying event. They can talk to their HR representative and ask if there is any way to add you to their insurance plan.


Staying on COBRA

If you recently left a job, you may still be eligible for that employer’s health insurance because of COBRA (continuation of health coverage) laws. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay for the entire cost of the plan, which may be much more expensive than you're used to.

Still, this also makes it easier to transition because you’ll have access to the same doctors and providers. You can stay on COBRA for up to 18 months, which buys you time to figure out where to buy your next plan. This may be on the health care marketplace, through a self-employed group plan or through your partner's employer.


What you can do next

While buying health insurance for freelancers and other self-employed people can be daunting, you have several options available so that you don’t need to go without insurance. Compare these options to choose the best health insurance for your needs.


Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. She has written for the Associated Press, Indianapolis Monthly and more. She also writes a blog about how she paid off her student loans in three years.


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