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Is good group health insurance available through unions, clubs, associations, etc?
August 24, 2006 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Are there real, decent options for getting group insurance other than from an employer? I'm mostly thinking about unions, associations, professional organizations, etc.

I've had good insurance through my employer for two years, but I'm uncomfortable with this state of affairs. I don't plan to stay forever, and in any case, having ones insurance connected to ones employment seems like poor personal risk management.

It would seem there's only two alternatives:

(1) Buying an individual policy.

(2) Find some other group under which one could have a policy written.

I've done #1, and will do it again if I must, but my experience has been that premiums increase at a drastic rate, coverage tends to be inferior, and the law seems to allow continuity between policies to be spottier than with group coverage.

So I'd like to look into #2. Some people have suggested to me that it's possible to find good coverage through guilds, unions, associations, etc. Does anyone have experience with this, or know people who do?

If it's a valid path, any ideas of organizations to look at? Potential niches for me include computing, math, songwriting/performing, and audio related organizations. The ACM and AES are two I'm eyeing.
posted by weston to Work & Money (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The IEEE would be another choice. I heard good things about their health insurance in the past, but haven't used it myself, and don't know anyone who's currently using it.
posted by magicbus at 12:00 PM on August 24, 2006

There's the National Association for the Self Employed (NASE), as of course almost anyone can open a home business... BUT I recall when I looked at it 3 years ago in Oklahoma it was bad coverage for an unexceptional price. I remember being pretty disappointed that NASE couldn't offer anything decent. I would hope that's different now.
posted by hodyoaten at 12:19 PM on August 24, 2006

NYC has the Freelancers Union. (Although their logo features a beehive, their insurance is not available to Utahns.) There may be something similar in your area.
posted by dersins at 12:21 PM on August 24, 2006

An employer pays part of the insurance plan's cost as a fringe benefit, so I'm afraid you'll never find anything that matches your own employer's plan for price.

Check with your parents and siblings who are employed by substantial companies. Company health insurance plans often have optional extensions to cover close relatives.

A key phrase is "affinity groups." Any group that's big enough to spread the risk can save you money. You need not be interested in the group's speciality to join. The American String Teachers Association has good deals on musical instrument insurance, and perhaps on health insurance, too. They accept anybody who pays their dues.

Try fraternal organizations: Elks, Shriners, Toastmasters, etc.

The Polish-American Mutual Benefit Society is big in New York, and there are many others. Check for any ethnicity you have even a tiny amount of.

Law firms are old-fashioned in many ways, and many still have the sort of coverage that other employers have dropped. I type for a big one during the day and do my music nights and weekends. I have to work to eat and pay my health insurance. This way is as good as any, and better than most.
posted by KRS at 1:13 PM on August 24, 2006

Shriners do not have group insurance. Woodmen of the World do.
posted by mattbucher at 1:54 PM on August 24, 2006

The IEEE would be another choice. I heard good things about their health insurance in the past

I've heard good things about them to, but I don't know if the organization is actually a good professional fit -- I've been solidly on the software side of things almost all of my academic and work life. How much does this sort of thing matter to organizations?

There's the National Association for the Self Employed (NASE), as of course almost anyone can open a home business... BUT I recall when I looked at it 3 years ago in Oklahoma it was bad coverage for an unexceptional price.

I tried insurance offered through them back in 1997/1998. My premiums doubled inside of a year. How any insurance company could have a need to double the premiums on a then-healthy 25 year old at a time when even barely competent investors could make significant bank in the market was beyond me. So I dropped them, and wasn't surprised when they were later the subject of a class action suit. I'd really have to have my back against the wall to try insurance or anything through NASE again.

The same insurance company also sold through an organization called the Alliance for Affordable Services. Buyer beware.

An employer pays part of the insurance plan's cost as a fringe benefit, so I'm afraid you'll never find anything that matches your own employer's plan for price.

Yeah. I'm just hoping to find something where the premiums and coverage are competetive with the unsubsidized version of my current plan.
posted by weston at 2:20 PM on August 24, 2006

Well, insurance tied to your employment is the state of affairs most everyone lives with. It's somewhat less of a concern than it once was with HIPAA laws guaranteeing you protection against preexisting condition limits so long as no lapse in coverage exceeds 61 days, plus the availability of COBRA. There are no clauses in HIPAA that differentiate between individual and group plans to the best of my knowledge.

At the risk of being rather basic, have you simply priced the offerings at

I'd suggest you get over your concern here. Your coverage is tied to your employment to a certain extent in the sense that if you don't have money coming in you're going to be hard up to pay premiums. What you should be doing for risk avoidance is making sure you have the funds to continue your COBRA coverage after you separate - willingly or unwillingly - from your job.
posted by phearlez at 2:48 PM on August 24, 2006

When buying insurance on the individual market, you should give up the expectation (you may have from employer-provided plans) of reasonably-priced coverage for routine care. The most financially attractive way to insure on the individual market is to buy catastrophic plans, which offer very generous coverage after you pay a high deductible. It's analagous to car insurance: you'll still have to pay your gas, your oil changes, and your traffic tickets, but the insurance will be there to buy you a new car if your old one gets totaled.
posted by MattD at 3:44 PM on August 24, 2006

At the risk of being rather basic, have you simply priced the offerings at

I've reviewed options through similar sites. The problem is that I'd be walking down the individual coverage road again with nearly all the plans I'm likely to find that way. That's not a horrible scenario, I'm just interested in looking into group options. Same think with COBRA. I'm prepared to go that route if I need to, but wondering what else is available.
posted by weston at 3:50 PM on August 24, 2006

I hate to bring this up, but try to look for affinity groups that skew "young" and "childless" and employed in jobs with low accident rates. That sounds like a horrible thing to point out, I know. As a benefits manager in the Fortune 500 YEARS ago, I figured out that a insurance companies set group premiums to cover all of the following: all claims filed by the insured group, two months of extra anticipated claims, administrative fees, stop-loss premiums (for catastrophic coverage, like an AIDS case) and their profit. The older your covered population, the more dangerous the work they participate in, the more office visits that they are likely to incure, the higher the premiums.

I think that health care coverage could be more cost effective in this country if we would push for one standard back-of-the-house language and systems for claims filing and processing. Not only are your premiums covering medical expenses, but they are covering all of the very separate systems that are run by Blue Cross, CIGNA, Aetna, et al. Claims administration is complex and big business. Doctor's offices have to outsouce claims filing or have WAY more staff than needed to deal with all of the different standards and companies. This adds a ridiculous amount of cost in health care and hardly anyone ever talks about it.

Whoops. Sorry for the rant. Man, I hate the cost of insurance.
posted by jeanmari at 3:56 PM on August 24, 2006

The IEEE takes software folks. Here's a link to their membership requirements. Unfortunately, it appears that their comprehensive health insurance plan may be no more. From the website: "Thank you for your interest in the IEEE Comprehensive Health Care Plan. Unfortunately, we are not currently accepting new applications for coverage."
posted by magicbus at 4:41 PM on August 24, 2006

we haven't opted for universal health insurance in this country, so almost everyone, but the old and infirm is dependent on employer coverage. this tide is changing. (mass, sf other cities and states are considering changes.) some prof. associations do offer group coverage. they're calledd mewa. multi employer welfare arrangements. I get my health insurance through the sf trial lawyers assoc. i've heard that some chambers of commerce offer health insurance.
posted by bananafish at 7:14 PM on August 24, 2006

To echo magicbus, I flunked fibre optics and can't tell a transistor from a transformer. And yet they let me join the IEEE. They definitely take software-only people.

Odd that they stopped their US healthcare program - they sent me offers for it several times, although I live in Region 7 (i.e. Canada). You'd think they wouldn't send me US insurance offers, but I guess they're the IEEE and not in marketing.

Some alumni associations offer coverage as well, although I don't know if it's any better than individual coverage.
posted by GuyZero at 8:11 PM on August 24, 2006

Keep in mind that COBRA coverage lasts 18 months, giving you lots of time to find competetive coverage if you lose your job. When I lost mine, I hunted around (in Washington State) for individual coverage and couldn't find anything that gave quite as good coverage (especially perscriptions) for the same price as the COBRA.
posted by lhauser at 8:50 AM on August 25, 2006

Keep in mind that COBRA coverage lasts 18 months

Except when it lasts 36 months.

Length of Coverage

The length of COBRA coverage is between 18 and 36 months, depending on the circumstances:

* 18 months when coverage is lost due to termination or reduction in hours;
* 36 months when coverage is lost due to death, divorce or legal separation.
posted by phearlez at 11:06 AM on August 25, 2006

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