One of the advantages of covering shifts at hospitals or medical facilities on an as-needed basis, also known as per diem nursing, is that per diem nurses can make a comparable salary to that of staff nurses – if not higher. Consequently, many nurses choose to become per diem nurses because of the unmatched flexibility and freedom that these jobs offer, allowing them to pick shifts that fit their lifestyles. On the contrary, one of the disadvantages of being a per diem nurse is that more often than not, per diem nursing gigs do not provide health insurance. Which raises the question, how can a per diem nurse go about finding a health insurance policy that’s legitimate, secure, and cost effective?
It’s true. Finding an individual health care policy working as a gig worker can seem overwhelming at first. Luckily, as travel nursing and per diem contracts are becoming favorable career choices for professional nurses around the country, health insurance companies are tailoring their policies to meet gig workers' needs. Keep reading to learn about some health insurance alternatives that can provide coverage for nurses who are currently working on an as-needed basis.
Choosing the Best Health Care Plan for You
Finding a health insurance policy as a gig worker, more specifically as a per diem nurse, can seem like a complicated and expensive process at first glance. In general, per diem gig workers will have to spend out-of-pocket to provide coverage for themselves and their families. According to one study by eHealth and a revision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans, the average premium for a private health insurance plan is $456 for an individual and $1,152 for a family, but health insurance policies can vary greatly from broker to broker. Thus, choosing a healthcare policy overnight is not advisable; it’s always best for per diem nurses to do their homework.
The best thing a per diem nurse can do is to begin by comparison shopping. Narrowed down, here is a list of the most common types of health insurance plans a gig worker can qualify for:
- Agency-coverage health plans
- Private individual/family health insurance plans
- Catastrophic insurance plans
- No health insurance (not recommended)
Agency-Offered Health Insurance
Agency health plans are good options for per diem gig workers who don’t want to go through the pain of finding an individual plan. It’s the most straightforward approach for gig workers looking for coverage. With that said, insurance provided by agencies will not provide individualized care and may be inferior to what a private health insurance package may offer.
On the flip side, agency health plans typically offer benefit packages for per diem nurses, including wellness benefits – something private insurance policies usually lack; however, agencies may require per diem nurses to work a certain number of hours to be eligible for these plans. And while agency health coverage can be a cheaper alternative than private insurance, if you decide to change agencies or work as an independent gig worker, your policy will end when your contract ends. This can also mean paying high rates for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act health insurance (COBRA) since you would have to pay for your portion of insurance as well as the agency's portion when you decide to take time off.
Ultimately, the best agency insurance plans offer perks similar to staff insurance plans, such as paid time off, wellness benefits, and even referral bonuses. In general, however, agency health insurance offers basic care and will be less tailored to specific medical needs than private insurance can be.
Private Health Insurance
Private individual or family health insurance plans are most popular for individuals with or without families who want to shop around for a private policy that provides individualized protection. Almost all private health insurance plans are compliant with ACA regulations and are good choices for per diem or gig workers who want more control over their individual care. In addition, individual health plans will not have any gaps in coverage, providing a per diem nurse with peace of mind when he or she is deciding to move from one gig to another.
Some of the cons of individual health plans are high deductibles and co-payments. Furthermore, delayed enrollment can occur due to pre-existing conditions. As mentioned before, wellness perks, such as mental health coverage, are often inadequate when compared to agency or permanent contract health insurance packages. Yet, in the end, many per-diem nurses will choose individual policies for the freedom of choice and security of knowing they are safely covered no matter where they go or what contract they are working under.
Catastrophic or Short-Term Insurance
Choosing catastrophic insurance may be a viable option for healthy individuals who do not have families. These insurance plans typically come with much lower premiums in exchange for significantly higher deductibles. Additionally, catastrophic plans usually have limited eligibility requirements and are almost always null of routine care coverage.
Essentially, short-term insurance is for worst-case scenarios, such as unexpected emergencies with medical bills accumulating to upwards of thousands of dollars. Therefore, if an accident occurs, a deductible will have to reach a high amount for the insurer to pay for medical expenses ($8,550 for individuals or $17,100 for families in 2021).
On the same token, a healthy per diem nurse may also choose to forgo health insurance altogether, but this is not recommended. While there are no more tax penalties for individuals who choose not to have health insurance, in case of a medical emergency, not having insurance can put an individual at risk of falling into catastrophic medical debt.
Supplemental Coverage and Mental Health Apps
Routine vision and dental coverage are usually not provided by ACA health insurance policies. Therefore, seeking out supplemental coverage by vision and dental brokers may be relevant for per diem nurses who need routine care in these areas. Needless to say, mental health is also an important part of a per-diem gig worker’s well-being. Since many private policies lack mental health benefits, mental health apps can be a good alternative for per diem nurses looking to get support remotely without the pressure and expense of attending in-person appointments. In any case, checking to see what mental health providers are covered by your policy should be considered when choosing health care insurance.
Tips for Deciding on the Right Insurance for You as a Gig Worker
Choosing a health insurance policy is a very personal decision. Regardless of your personal needs and preferences, shopping around for a health insurance policy as a gig worker takes some work and research. Whether you choose to jump on an agency’s health care policy or to take charge and seek out your own coverage, here are a few great resources to get started:
- eHealth: This is an online one-stop shop for medical plans, where you can compare prices from some of the nation’s top healthcare providers.
- HealthCare.com: This is another online comprehensive health insurance directory with access to over 100 plans, which allows you to get customized plans in under two minutes.
- Healthinsurance.org: Created in 1994, this website is one of the longest-running sources of in-depth information about health insurance for consumers.
Have you worked as a per diem nurse through an agency or through Nursa’s healthcare staffing app? How did you find the best coverage for your needs? There is nothing better than learning from the personal experiences of others who have been in our shoes to help us make informed decisions for our lives, so please share your experiences with us and help other gig workers like yourself find the best health plan!