The one thing that can drown your independent spirit and entrepreneurial fire quicker than a subtropical monsoon is the prospect of providing your own health insurance. Being your own boss or setting your own hours sounds great - until the fear of an injury or disease going untreated takes hold.
Like most fears, however, the fear of not being able to afford quality health care is based more on emotion than rational thought.
Health Care vs. Health Insurance
Notice I said “afford quality health care” rather than quality health insurance. Think about that. What is it you want? Do you want health insurance, a piece of paper that says if anything happens, someone else may or may not pay for it depending on if you go to the right provider on the right day with the right ailment? Or do you want to ensure (or insure) that you and your family have access and can afford necessary health care?
Health insurance is necessary, for sure. Tomorrow, if you were in a serious car wreck or were suddenly diagnosed with a long-term disease, either of those events would have a high likelihood of bankrupting you without insurance. Those unfortunate incidents are precisely why health insurance was such a good idea in the first place.
However, is it necessary to insure yourself against every cold, every flu, every doctor visit or every wellness check? Most of us carry auto insurance in case we have an accident, but we don’t expect our policy to protect us against routine maintenance such as oil changes or a flat tire or even a transmission that needs replaced.
There are some things in life that are too expensive to insure one’s self against because the likelihood of those things happening are pretty good. In the whole scope of things, these incidents aren’t that expensive, they won’t ruin your long-term financial plan, and they are definitely things you can budget for. Insurance was designed to protect you from events that have a low likelihood of occurring but if they did, they would derail you financially. Because these events are not likely to occur, they are not as expensive to insure against.
Picking a Plan
Remember the insurance company is just that: a company. It provides its products and services to make money - just as we trainers do. Unless the insurance company takes in more money than it pays out, it doesn’t make money. So all insurance companies work to create a system in which they charge far more in premiums than they pay out in benefits. To weigh the equation in their favor, insurance companies charge very high premiums for increased coverage (the more benefits you want, the more you’ll pay on the front end), and they work diligently to deny paying out benefits that don’t meet the exact terms of the contract.
This is where it gets very expensive for the individual purchaser of health insurance. When you have an employer who pays for it all, these costs are invisible. They pack a bigger punch, however, when they come out of your own pocket.
There are plans available to individuals that cover a few routine health needs, like doctor visits, and reduce the costs of prescription drugs, but they come at a much lower cost because additional coverage kicks in only when a high deductible is met. These plans, referred to as high-deductible health plans (HDHP) or “catastrophic” health insurance, now come with the added benefit of allowing you to save money in an account to pay for the high deductible.
The health savings account, HSA, allows you to pay for current health expenses and save for future qualified medical expenses (including dental, chiropractic and orthodontics) on a tax-free basis. Best of all, rather than paying a steep premium, the money remains yours and is spent only at your discretion. An HDHP generally costs far less than what traditional health care coverage costs, so the money you save on insurance can therefore be put into your HSA.
As a healthy individual - most fitness professionals I know are rarely sick and see their doctor very infrequently - an HDHP and HSA allow you to keep more of your money while still maintaining insurance against long-term diseases, injuries and accidents.
My family of four has utilized an HDHP and an HSA for five years. We have put a specified amount each month into our HSA, dipping into that account only when we had medical expenses not covered by our policy. At the end of the year, we receive a statement of all of our contributions to the HAS, and we deduct that amount from our taxes. Because we are a healthy family, the account balance now exceeds our high deductible amount, so if one of us were ever in an accident where the cost of care would immediately exceed the deductible, we are covered. Being partially “self-insured” sits well with my independent nature.
There are many companies that offer HDHPs as well as traditional health care coverage, so it pays to comparison shop. Just as you would shop for the best rates on your home or auto insurance, health insurance is no different. Websites like www.vimo.com or www.ehealthinsurance.com offer a quick and easy way to get a number of quotes immediately. A broker will most likely call you, but you’ll be in touch with someone who can help you compare policies.
If you have a pre-existing health condition or some other reason that an HDHP may not be right for you, determine if any group that you belong to or that is in your area offers a group policy. Some chambers of commerce offer a group policy to members, as do some other business, professional and trade associations. As a member of the group, you are eligible to participate in the health plan and cannot be turned down for coverage because of your health status.
For health insurance information particular to your own state, www.healthinsuranceinfo.net is a great place to go. This site, maintained by the Georgetown Health Policy Institute, allows you to click on your state and download a “Consumer Guide for Getting and Keeping Health Insurance” particular to that individual state.
Individual health insurance is available and, with proper shopping and planning, affordable - especially for a well population like fitness professionals. Just as we ask our clients to put their money toward maintaining their health, when we’re willing to do the same, our dreams of independence and/or entrepreneurship are well within reach.