Freelancers Union Changes Healthcare Course

With requirements of the Affordable Care Act cramping the association's style, the Freelancers Union is moving away from offering its own health insurance plan. But in changing its healthcare model, it sees an opportunity to offer benefits more widely.

The innovative approach to healthcare that Freelancers Union offers its members is about to take a more traditionalist turn.

The group, which has drawn hundreds of thousands of freelance workers in part due to its Freelancers Insurance Company healthcare plans, is moving away from offering its own insurance. Instead, it will start offering an array of plans through Empire BlueCross BlueShield.

Why the change? The Affordable Care Act imposed new requirements for the level of coverage insurers offer, and it prevents plans from limiting who can receive care from a provider. This put the Freelancers Union in a tough spot, as its insurance company had been available only to freelancers.

The group said the changes it would have had to make in the plan to comply with the ACA would have increased premiums by 14 percent in the coming year, undermining the point of having the program at all.

Dropping Freelancers Insurance Company—though not its healthcare ambitions, as the organization will continue to run its primary care facilities—comes with some perks for those currently under the plan: It would lower premiums for seven of the nine plans it currently offers.

The shift nonetheless raised concerns for members. “If they want to be good friends, they should tell everybody to do everything now,” public relations consultant Josh Baran told The New York Times. “If you need to go to a specialist, go right now. I just made three appointments.”

Now we’re taking the opportunity created by the ACA to go to scale.

Expanding Nationally

Despite such concerns, the organization sees the change as an opportunity to expand its healthcare strategy.

This year, the group added a national benefits platform, allowing members to search for information on health and dental care, retirement funds, and life insurance. Previously, its healthcare efforts had been focused on New York.

Next up, the union will expand its network of primary-care facilities, which do not charge co-pays for members, around New York City and, soon, across the country. The organization is raising $30 million in funding for the effort.

“We took time to understand what lay ahead,” Horowitz told Crain’s New York Business. “Now we’re taking the opportunity created by the ACA to go to scale.”

In other words, the Freelancers Union may have lost a battle by getting out of the insurance business, but it’s hoping to win the war to ensure that its members have easy access to healthcare.

“The ‘gig’ economy has become a vibrant and growing employment option that embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and strong work ethic that’s always been an integral part of America’s DNA,” Horowitz told Forbes. “Supporting that with high-quality healthcare has been a challenge, but the solution we’ve incubated successfully here in New York over the last 10 years is now ready for rolling out nationally.”

Freelancers Union's health strategy includes its own co-pay-free medical facilities. (Facebook photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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