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Understanding Options for Travel Therapist Health Insurance

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As a traveling therapist, you are working temporary job assignments. The lack of consistency in working with agencies and gaps between contracts could make health insurance an issue. In the United States we rely primarily on employer-sponsored health insurance, and that can be an issue when you are constantly changing employers. If you are curious how to get health insurance as a travel therapist, read on to learn more about travel therapist health insurance.

Options for travel therapist health insurance

Be on Your Family Plan

This one is legitimately the easiest, although works for only a small portion of traveling therapists. 

If a spouse has health insurance or if you are under 26 years old, you can be on their health insurance plan. This is potentially the easiest solution to finding health insurance as a traveler. Hooray if this works for you! If this isn’t you, continue reading to learn the other 2 options for health insurance as a traveling therapist.

Buy a Private Health Insurance Plan

Holding your own private insurance plan lessens the stress of dealing with insurance through your agency. You can buy directly from insurance companies, through brokers, or directly from the government Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov. By holding your own insurance plan, you know that you will always have insurance (as long as you make payments).

By purchasing a plan through the Marketplace, you may also qualify for a subsidy if your income is below a certain threshold. Again, the Marketplace is for US-based therapists.

Open enrollment to buy insurance occurs annually from November 1 through January 15. You can also qualify to buy a private plan if you have a qualifying life event. Qualifying events could include moving, or losing a job (which we do frequently). Learn more about qualifying life events here: https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/qualifying-life-event/

I currently hold a private planI purchased through the Marketplace, although for many years I took insurance through my staffing agency and also found that to be effective for coverage.

Take Agency Insurance

Traveling agencies provide health insurance to travelers on assignment. Each company uses different plans and it is important to determine if the health insurance works for you before you sign a contract to accept it. For example, an agency’s insurance plan might only start to cover you 30 days after you start a contract. This could be a dealbreaker. 

If you are loyal to one agency, it may be a lot easier to take company insurance than if you switch agencies a lot. If you know you are going to switch agencies a bit, you may want to buy your own private insurance. I think it is also worthwhile to compare plans from the Marketplace website as well. 

Things to consider when taking agency insurance:

  • When does the insurance start (day 1, 30 days, etc.)
  • What is the deductible? Also consider if you switch agencies you will switch insurance plans and you will start over with a new deductible
  • Does the company offer a health reimbursement fund to help cover out-of-pocket expenses?
  • What happens to the insurance when my contract terminates?
  • How much will the insurance cost per paycheck?

If I Have Agency Insurance, What Happens if My Contract Ends?

If you have agency insurance, you’ll want to know up front what the policy is for the plan at the end of a contract. Many agencies will allow you to keep your insurance for a specified amount of time if you take another contract with them. Usually this is between a 2-week to 30-day window and is NON-NEGOTIABLE because it is based on the insurance plan policy.

When I used company insurance (I currently have a private plan), I planned my contracts around the grace period of the health insurance plan. I tried to plan to start my next contract without losing the insurance.

What Happens if I Need Insurance Longer After a Contract?

Alas, you never truly have to lose insurance. There will always be options. If you need insurance for longer than the time allotted by the insurance company, you can apply for COBRA

COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. This is a federal law that requires employers of 20 or more employees who offer healthcare benefits to offer the option of continuing this coverage to individuals who would lose benefits because of termination or loss of hours. By law, your agency has to offer you COBRA as an option when your insurance ends.

By signing onto COBRA, that means that you cover 100% of your health insurance premiums. You can keep the same plan that you had with your agency, you just have to pay for it 100% out of pocket. In my experience, this can run anywhere from $450-$800/month for a single individual.

You have 60 days after your policy has ended to elect COBRA coverage. If you elect coverage, your plan is retroactive to the date when you lost coverage. Thus, if you use COBRA, you will not have any gaps in coverage, even though it may take a couple of weeks to sign up and pay your first payment.

COBRA PRO TIP: The information to sign up for COBRA is often SNAIL MAILED to you from your agency. Make sure that your agency has a proper address at the end of your contract for the mail to reach you. I have had many COBRA packets lost in transit because of moving and mail forwards.

Travel therapy health insurance conclusions

Hopefully this piece has helped to answer your questions about health insurance as a traveler. The bottom line is that it’s really not difficult to secure year-round coverage as a traveling therapist. Based on your circumstances you can purchase a private plan to cover you year-round, or use your agency’s insurance. If you are one of the lucky ones who has a family plan, you can use that to cover you as well. 

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