New Kinds of Health Insurance for New Kinds of Workers

Guest Commentary

Volume CIII, No. 1January, 2003

Sara Horowitz

If you’re uninsured and rely on gigs and other projects to earn a living, the cost of health insurance is probably a very central concern. With about one-third of Americans now working in flexible or mobile jobs, musicians and other artists have become the prototype for a new kind of career model. It is no longer just creative people who work this way. Many white-collar professionals have left the security of a company to become consultants, and the trend toward flexibility keeps growing as technology makes temporary and contracted labor more and more attractive to companies.

Unfortunately, while the job landscape has changed radically, the social policies that govern work conditions and the benefits available to working people have not. Our legal system assumes full-time, continuous employment to be the norm, and those of us who don’t meet that standard are left to fend for ourselves.

Founded in 1995, Working Today is creating a new safety net for the overlooked but growing “independent workforce” – freelancers, temps, part-time employees and others without access to employer benefits. We took the idea of union-sponsored benefit funds and applied it to freelancers and other people who work on their own. Our members include journalists, illustrators, graphics designers, computer programmers and architects, and we work with a broad range of associations, unions and community groups to provide them with services and advocacy.

We bring dispersed individuals together to benefit from group purchasing, discounts and collective political action. By pioneering this strategy across a range of industries, Working Today has popularized the notion that benefits should be made affordable for individual consumers, so that people who work on many projects have a safety net to fall back on, just like their full-time counterparts.

If you’re an 802 member who doesn’t meet the union’s criteria for Plan A or Plan B, you may be eligible for Working Today’s Portable Benefits Network, a project that began with high-tech workers in 2001 and recently expanded to include arts and entertainment and several other sectors. The network provides access to group-rate health, disability and life insurance, as well as free checking and other financial services to freelancers who meet its eligibility requirements.

The Portable Benefits Network offers a group-rate HMO plan through HIP Health Plans of New York that features a network of over 20,000 doctors and access to hospitals such as Mt. Sinai, Beth Israel, Lenox Hill and NYU.

Monthly rates for the plan are currently $255.18 for individuals, $466.03 for a single person plus children, $500.32 for an individual plus spouse and $759.99 for an entire family.

HIP’s service area covers the five boroughs of New York City – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island – and the counties of Nassau, Westchester, Orange, Rockland and Suffolk.

In addition to health insurance, members have access to life and disability insurance. The disability insurance is particularly important for independent workers such as musicians or massage therapists – people whose income depends on being able to perform physical activities.

It took three years of research and fundraising from private foundations and local and state governments to make portable benefits for freelancers a reality here in New York City. And we know this is just the beginning. Working Today’s plan is to establish the portable benefits model then expand it throughout the state and eventually nationally. To do this, we have urged our members to take part in e-mail and legislative campaigns that explain to politicians and the public the need for a new safety net.

The reputation we built with the Portable Benefits Network led the September 11 Fund to ask us to participate in its free health program for displaced workers downtown. While many of the recipients were not independent workers themselves, they all lost their coverage when a company folded or when their hours were reduced, and with the hours went benefits such as health insurance. A life or employment change should not force people to give up benefits that might be even more valuable during times of stress or transition. The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 showed the need for a new safety net that working people can really depend on.

To learn more about Working Today and the Portable Benefits Network, visit