As a massage therapist, you make your own schedule, set your own hours and—the best part—help clients get past pain and stress. But, as a self-employed individual, what are you doing about health insurance for yourself and your family?
Since you can’t access an employer-sponsored plan, what are your options? And do you really need health insurance if you’re a young and healthy person?
The short answer: yes.
Why? Anything can happen.
“If the COVID pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that our health is always vulnerable and must be prioritized and protected,” Noor Ali, MD, MPH, CPH, a medical doctor and licensed health insurance professional told MASSAGE Magazine.
Read on for three major reasons to put getting health care coverage on your practice’s agenda—and soon, because the open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act exchange coverage closes May 15.
You may be healthy and rarely get sick. But what if you get injured?
Think of the parts of your body that work the hardest while you’re giving a massage—thumbs, shoulders and lower back, for example. A 2013 article in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork noted that up to 80% of bodyworkers drop out of the industry after the first two years, many due to injuries and overwork. “Research has shown that massage practitioners are at high risk for various work-related musculoskeletal disorders including: finger or thumb, shoulder, wrist, neck, arm or elbow, and back,” the abstract explained.
If you find your ability to work hampered by an injury, explained Adam Hyers, president and owner of Hyers and Associates Insurance Agency in Columbus, Ohio, you may end up wanting or needing to see a specialist to get you back in practice quickly—something that could be very difficult to afford without insurance and without your regular pay rolling in.
“While [not having health insurance is] not illegal, it’s the same risk as driving around without car insurance,” he said. “If something happened, you could be running into some pretty big bills.”
Thanks to the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, it’s now much easier for people with pre-existing conditions, such as pregnancy, diabetes, cancer and other medical issues to get health insurance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF, kff.org), “KFF has estimated that in 2018 about 54 million non-elderly adults in the U.S. (27%) had ‘declinable’ pre-existing conditions that would have made them ‘uninsurable’ in the pre-ACA individual health insurance market.”
For most individuals, the ACA marketplace is the best place to start looking for a health insurance plan, said Hyers.
“You can get on a plan, no questions asked. They have to take you, and you can get any plan on the marketplace that you want that’s available in your zip code,” he said. “They’re not going to ask you about health issues and underwriting.
“It’s also the only place you can get a tax credit,” Hyers added. “If you qualify for a tax credit, it’s the only place to go.”
Just be sure to go there soon—the open enrollment window closes on May 15.
Also, your health insurance premiums you pay may be tax-deductible. Ask your accountant.
In the ACA marketplace or elsewhere, “There are health insurance options for every single person, at every single stage of life,” said Ali. “Working with an advisor really helps to draw out those options as insurance laws, offerings, marketplaces change all the time. There are plans out there that you may not even be aware of!”
For example, said Hyers, if you’re young and relatively healthy—and don’t qualify for the ACA tax credit—you may be able to cover yourself and save money with a short-term plan.
“They’re medically underwritten, so you can be turned down and they’re not necessarily going to cover pre-existing conditions,” he said. “But they can be much less expensive … I mean, they can be half as much as what you might pay on the [ACA] exchange.”
If you remain uninsured, just one major medical issue, such as a heart attack or cancer, can easily put your business and your finances in jeopardy. “When uninsured people use health care, they may be charged for the full cost of that care (versus insurers, who negotiate discounts) and often face difficulty paying medical bills,” KFF’s website noted.
Research published in the journal Circulation found that for uninsured patients, the median cost of treatment for a stroke can be upwards of $30,000; and for a heart attack, $50,000 and up.
While getting your own health insurance as a self-employed person is typically more expensive than taking advantage of an employer’s (or a spouse’s employer’s) health plan, working closely with an insurance broker who understands your situation and has broad knowledge of what’s out there can allow you to protect yourself and your practice from unforeseen illness or injury.
“Not having health insurance,” said Ali, “is not an option.”
Allison M. Payne is a freelance writer and editor based in central Florida. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine; recent ones include “COVID-19 Long-Haulers Puzzle Health Experts” and “Massage Therapists Take Action to Support Cultural Competence.”
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