If you’re self-employed—whether as a contractor, freelancer or gig worker—getting health insurance can be more complicated than for employees who receive it as a benefit. Without an employer-sponsored health plan, you’re solely responsible for researching and choosing your coverage.

A popular option is to find one through Health Insurance Marketplace®, but if you missed the open enrollment period, you still have alternatives that allow you to secure coverage without waiting. Options like UnitedHealthcare’s temporary coverage, backed by Golden Rule Insurance Company, can offer a quick solution to keep you covered until you can enroll again.

Whether you need short-term or extended health care coverage, here are three things to know about buying health insurance when you’re self-employed.

1. You May Have More Than One Way to Get Insured

As a self-employed worker, your choice of health insurance depends on your situation. These are the most common types of coverage:

Individual Insurance Plan via Health Insurance Marketplace

Established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, the Health Insurance Marketplace provides a way for self-employed people and others without workplace health benefits to purchase comprehensive health coverage. While most states use the ACA’s Marketplace, 18 states and the District of Columbia operate their own marketplaces in compliance with the ACA.

When you complete a Marketplace application, you’ll find out whether your income qualifies you for premium tax credits or other savings. Plans offered through Marketplace are only available during ACA’s open enrollment period, generally running from November 1 through January 15.

Individual Short-Term and Supplemental Insurance Plans Directly from the Insurer

Individual health plans with limited-duration coverage are also available directly from insurance companies.1 Your options include short-term health plans designed to provide temporary coverage and supplemental plans that offer specific types of coverage for hospital stays and doctor visits, accidents, critical illness and dental or vision care.

Coverage through a Family Member

If you’re under age 26 and have a parent with a health insurance plan that covers dependents, they can include you. The ACA allows young adults to get coverage even if they’re married, a parent, not living with their parents, attending school or not financially dependent on their parents. This option is available to self-employed workers and those eligible for an employer health plan.

Small group insurance through a membership group

While self-employed workers usually don’t have access to group health insurance, there are exceptions. Some organizations—including professional, trade and university alumni associations—offer health insurance plans with group rates to eligible members.

Some plans are limited to members living in specific states, and there may also be differences in state laws that impact which type of group insurance you qualify for when you’re self-employed.

2. Alternatives Are Available if You Miss Open Enrollment

If you missed enrolling in a comprehensive health plan, that doesn’t mean you have to wait until the next one starts to get coverage. Your main options after missing enrollment are to qualify for a special enrollment period, which may be available due to life events such as marriage or moving, or to apply for a short-term plan that’s available year-round from an insurance company.

Special Enrollment Periods

The ACA allows applications for Marketplace plans outside the regular open enrollment period for low-income individuals and those who have recently experienced a qualifying life event. Similarly, many comprehensive health insurance plans, whether they are offered through an employer or private insurer, also allow you to apply anytime outside the regular open enrollment period if you or someone in your household experiences a qualifying life event. You may qualify for special enrollment if you or anyone in your household has experienced one of the following life changes:

  • Marriage
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Loss of health coverage
  • Moving

Short-Term Health Insurance

Short-term health insurance plans offer another way to get temporary coverage if you miss open enrollment and don’t qualify for special enrollment. These plans typically provide coverage from one month to just under 12 months.2 You can apply for health care benefits any time of the year until you find a more permanent solution. If you need coverage for a longer period of time, extended plans with up to three years of coverage are also available.

3. Extended Short-Term Coverage Is Available With TriTerm Medical Insurance

A standard short-term health insurance policy can offer some health care coverage if you miss open enrollment or need a temporary solution. This type of coverage can be particularly beneficial if you’re self-employed and seeking flexible options, but in most cases, it’s not renewable if you need more time to get a comprehensive medical policy.

You may be able to apply for another short-term plan in that case, but any health condition treated under the previous plan would be considered a preexisting condition, which short-term plans usually don’t cover. Short-term health insurance policies are also medically underwritten, meaning your medical background could significantly influence whether you are offered a policy and how much it would cost.

In this case, you might consider a plan that provides coverage for a longer period before you have to reapply. For instance, UnitedHealthcare’s temporary coverage, underwritten by Golden Rule Insurance Company, offers limited-duration insurance. You only need to apply once for coverage that can last nearly 36 months.3

Here’s what you need to know about TriTerm Medical insurance:

  • It offers more benefits than standard short-term plans. Some TriTerm Medical plans cover preventive care. You can choose from many plans that cover office visits for injury or illness and prescription drugs. Some preexisting conditions may be covered after you’ve been on a TriTerm Medical plan for 12 months.
  • If you qualify, your TriTerm Medical benefits can begin as soon as five days after you’ve applied. Like traditional short-term health insurance plans, you don’t need to worry about open enrollment restrictions since TriTerm Medical plans are available year-round.
  • You have access to nationwide healthcare. You’ll gain access to UnitedHealthcare’s nationwide provider network of nearly 1.8 million physicians and more than 7,200 hospitals and other healthcare facilities.4
  • It’s currently available in 18 states. You can check UnitedHealthcare’s site to see what plans are available in your ZIP code.

Navigating health insurance as a self-employed worker can be challenging, especially if you miss open enrollment. If you don’t have insurance, there are other alternatives for getting temporary coverage, including plans that can take effect in just a few days and keep you covered for nearly three years. If you’re ready to explore short-term health insurance options, UnitedHealthcare makes applying for TriTerm Medical insurance easy.

Disclosures

1 This policy has exclusions, limitations, reduction of benefits, terms under which the policy may be continued in force or discontinued. For costs and complete details of the coverage, call [or write] your insurance agent or the company.

2 Short term plans are medically underwritten and generally do not cover preexisting conditions. This coverage is not required to comply with certain federal market requirements for health insurance, principally those contained in the Affordable Care Act. Be sure to check your policy/certificate carefully to make sure you are aware of any exclusions or limitations regarding coverage of preexisting conditions or health benefits (such as hospitalization, emergency services, maternity care, preventive care, prescription drugs, and mental health and substance use disorder services). Your policy/certificate might also have lifetime and/or annual dollar limits on health benefits. If this coverage expires or you lose eligibility for this coverage, you might have to wait until an open enrollment period to get other health insurance coverage. This is not Minimum Essential coverage as defined in the Affordable Care Act and may not cover all Essential Health Benefits in your state. Some Short Term plans are available as association group insurance only to members of FACT, an independent association. Additional membership fees may be required.

3 The coverage term is one day less than 3 years. In SC, plans are three 11-month terms. In IN and OK, plans are three 364-day terms.This coverage is not required to comply with certain federal market requirements for health insurance, principally those contained in the Affordable Care Act. Be sure to check your policy carefully to make sure you are aware of any exclusions or limitations regarding coverage of preexisting conditions or health benefits (such as hospitalization, emergency services, maternity care, preventive care, prescription drugs, and mental health and substance use disorder services). Your policy might also have lifetime and/or annual dollar limits on health benefits. If this coverage expires or you lose eligibility for this coverage, you might have to wait until an open enrollment period to get other health insurance coverage.

4 UnitedHealth Group Annual Form 10-K for year ended 12/31/23.

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Last Update: July 3, 2024