Yes, independent creators can get health insurance. Here’s how.
Your physical and mental well-being often takes a backseat to your business. But it doesn’t have to. We invited Stride Health’s Dexter Hill Schmidt and Leesa Renée Hall, creator of Inner Field Trip, to help us bust some myths about the often-confusing world of health insurance as an independent creator, and to share strategies for tackling burnout.*
Finding affordable health insurance can be a major challenge for independent creators in the U.S., but healthcare is an essential consideration. No matter who you are or how you earn a living, health insurance can be a major tool for supporting your physical health and mental well-being.
Choosing a plan that’s right for you can feel overwhelming and stressful in the short-run, but will pay dividends when it comes to day-to-day care and emergencies. It’s also a huge step in the right direction for safeguarding your overall mental health and protecting yourself against possible burnout. It’s time to set aside the health insurance headaches, as we bust some myths and walk you through the best way to get support for your overall health and well-being.
MYTH 1: It’s impossible to find health insurance as an independent creator
Although health insurance is typically handled through employers in the U.S., it’s universally accessible for everyone, and recently, private health insurance for independent creators has become more affordable, of higher quality, and easier to get than ever before. As for where to enroll, there are a few options:
- Healthcare.gov is the federal government website. It’s where most people go to enroll in their plan.
- About 13 states do not go through the federal government exchange, so you’ll need to go through your state’s exchange instead.
- Stride.fyi/patreon offers more plans than healthcare.gov, and includes an online recommendation engine to help filter through plans and find the best one for your specific needs.
MYTH 2: Picking a plan is stressful
There’s no point sugarcoating it — picking a health insurance plan is tough. But understanding how plans are categorized can help you filter through them and pick the best plan. The two main ways of differentiating plans are:
HMOs (health maintenance organizations) $
- Only covers doctors within a particular network
- You can’t see other doctors without a referral from your primary care physician
- The cheapest premiums
EPOs (exclusive provider organization) $$
- Allows you to see some out-of-network providers
- No referral needed from your primary care physician to see a specialist
- Useful if you have any doctors you want to keep
- Cost of premiums is between HMO and PPO, so grants flexibility without breaking the bank
PPOS (preferred provider organization) $$$
- Offers coverage when you go to out-of-network doctors
- No referral needed from your primary care physician to see a specialist
- The most expensive monthly premiums
Metal tiers differ based on how the cost of healthcare services are split between you and your insurer. They are named in order of the precious metals: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The fancier the metal, the more coverage you get, and the more you pay.
Choosing the right plan can be tricky. To get the right answer, you’ll need to be thinking about your financial situation, your best guess on how much care you need next year, and your risk profile.
MYTH 3: Health insurance without an employer is unaffordable
Your health insurance premium will be unique to you, and is based on your ZIP code, your taxable household size and your income. But the majority of Americans can find a plan for under $10 a month, even without an employer.
To get a more accurate, affordable plan estimate, deduct eligible business expenses from your income. Subtracting all business expenses, such as studio rental, editing software, or project management tools will generate your adjusted gross income. With that number, you will likely qualify for even greater subsidy amounts and a cheaper plan from the federal government. With the implementation of The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the odds you qualify for a cheaper plan have never been higher.
MYTH 4: You can’t change your plan during the year
In most cases, you do need to change or enroll in a plan during Open Enrollment, the big health insurance season, which takes place between November 1 and December 15 every year. It’s the best time to make switches, change to a different plan or enroll for the first time. But it’s not the only time you can enroll. You may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period in the middle of the year, which would allow you to change plans or enroll in a new plan. Check out the Stride blog for more details about qualifying events or health insurance in general.
MYTH 5: I can’t afford my premiums if I can’t work
Paying for your monthly premiums if you’re not working and not earning an income is not easy. But purchasing disability insurance, as well as health insurance, can supplement your income if ever you were to fall sick or get injured.
There are two types:
- Supplemental Disability Insurance (SDI) is a policy you purchase for yourself which is designed to partially replace your income if you were ever to get ill or injured and be unable to earn for any timeframe under a year. SDI typically costs 1-3% of your annual income and ensures you will receive a consistent stream of income — usually 65% of what you earn, depending on factors like age and gender. This can be put towards paying for your health insurance premiums or other expenses. Stride partners with the disability insurance provider Breeze, but there are lots to choose from.
- If your medical condition or illness lasts longer than a year, you can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) online or by calling Social Security. The processing of SSDI applications typically takes between three and five months, so make sure you apply as soon as you pass the one year mark.
MYTH 6: I’ll waste money if I never use my plan
Health insurance is a medical and financial safety net, and will help you recover if something bad happens. Whether it’s worth it is a question only you can answer for yourself. But here are some pros and cons to help you decide.
- You’ll have emergency coverage. You can’t predict the future and often emergency room costs and surgeries tend to be more expensive than planned treatment. Having coverage cushions you for any drastic health costs.
- You know that in that worst-case scenario, you’re covered. This kind of peace of mind is priceless.
- All plans have an out-of-pocket maximum which guarantees that you won’t pay above a certain amount towards health insurance, or toward healthcare costs. If a plan has an $8,000 out-of-pocket maximum, you will not pay more than those $8,000 in the worst case.
- You can drop a plan at any time. If you aren’t using the insurance, don’t want to pay for it or the peace of mind doesn’t feel worth it, there are no consequences to exiting a plan mid-year. But you will need a qualifying event to re-enroll again outside of the Open Enrollment period.
- Paying a monthly premium can be a cost too great to shoulder, and there’s no denying that financial worries will impact your mental health. If this is the case, a Catastrophic Plan could be a suitable alternative. It’s available to people under 30, offering low monthly premiums and very high deductibles (the amount you pay out of pocket when you make a claim). This could be a good option if you don’t see any major medical expenses in the future.
- You can’t switch out of this plan midway through the year without a qualifying event.
MYTH 7: Mental health isn’t covered by health insurance providers
Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, required all health insurance plans to cover some mental health, substance abuse and behavioral services. It also enforced cost parity, which means plans cannot charge you more for mental health services than they do for other benefits on the plan (this includes preventative care). Even better, all plans also offer free autism screenings for children, and free depression, tobacco and alcohol misuse screenings for adults and teenagers.
MYTH 8: Burnout is a natural part of life as a creator
Creators and creative business people are particularly susceptible to burnout because the reward is always changing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Anti-bias facilitator and Patreon creator Leesa Renée Hall has experienced burnout several times, and she offers some excellent guidance on preventing burnout, as well as easing it when it happens.
Her approach is to take a break from her social media sites, and from checking the notifications page of her Patreon community. “As creators we are more than the numbers,” she explains. “The numbers tell us if we’re growing, but if we assign our identity to those numbers, that’s going to impact our mental wellness.” So how can you develop a better relationship with your stats?
- Understand your expectation of how many Patrons you should have.
Do your social media followers and subscribers match the numbers of patrons you’re hoping for? If they far exceed them, and you have the number of patrons you’re looking for, that could be enough.
- Embrace the space.
Part of self-care after burnout can be slowing down and resetting your own expectations outside of other people’s gaze.
- Reconsider why you’re doing the work you’re doing.
Understand that beyond the numbers, we’re not doing this work and creating to gain popularity. Refocusing your aim on leaving some kind of a legacy can help you bounce back better.
Where are you on your health journey? Connect with like-minded creators and members of the Patreon Team on our Official Patreon Discord.
*This post is intended to summarize and highlight material presented as part of Patreon’s #OwnYourGrowth workshop series, and is not intended as financial, business, or legal advice from Patreon.