This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Freelance Developers and Insurance

Medical insurance can be an issue when you don't work for a corporation.

What do you do about medical insurance if you freelance? Freelancers Union is working on one answer.

We wrote a few months back about the Application Developers Alliance, which offers advocacy, networking, and research for its member app developers. One thing the ADA does not offer is insurance for freelancers -- that is not their focus, and many of their members work for corporations and do not need access to insurance.

Health insurance in the US is centered around corporate employment. There are some separate programs to insure the elderly, the poor, and so on, but none on a national basis to insure those who work for themselves. Independent workers make up a large and growing proportion of the US workforce -- 30 percent by one estimate (PDF). The cost of health insurance is one of the factors applying pressure to make that number grow. Corporations are much happier when they can offload insurance costs on someone else.

For independent developers, designers, testers, and web workers, one alternative is to join the Freelancers Union. The 7-year-old organization claims over 170,000 members nationwide. Like ANA, this organization offers networking events, advocacy, and research in support of its members. Its membership is wider, embracing lawyers, nannies, and temp workers, etc., in addition to app developers and other technical types.

Spurred by member demand, three years ago FU opened up a subsidiary, Freelancers Insurance Company, to offer various kinds of insurance to its members. FU members nationwide can take advantage of group rates on dental, term life, and disability insurance, and a 401-K retirement plan tailored for freelancers. Those in New York state have access to health insurance as well, and 25,000 FU members avail themselves of it.

FIC has an interesting organizational characteristic: it is a for-profit benefit corporation, a "B-corp." Its purpose is not to make anyone rich, but rather to remain sustainable for the long term. Unlike traditional corporations, its charter can specify purposes other than the usual "increasing shareholder value."

FU's roots are in the labor movement and its founder, MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow Sara Horowitz, practiced labor law. The organization is explicit about its goal of fixing the broken system of support for independent workers in this country.

FIC has now taken a further step towards showing a way forward for health care: it is opening its own medical clinic in Brooklyn. For anyone who has dealt with the medical system in the US (and that's most of us), it sounds like a dream come true: no co-pays, person-centered emphasis on keeping you healthy, contact your doctor by email or SMS, and Wi-Fi in the waiting room.

Freelancers Medical has a goal of signing up 3,000 clients in its first 18 months. It hasn't even opened its doors yet (that happens at the first of the year), and already 2,000 have signed.

According to Fast Company, Freelancers Medical plans to expand next in Portland, OR, another hotbed of freelance creatives. For my money, it can't come soon enough to a city near me.

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