Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Shopping for Health Insurance: The options for today’s artists

By Micah Gamino (OVAC Intern & Researcher Extraordinaire)

There probably is little reason for any working, professional artist in Oklahoma to go without at least basic health insurance. Artists working for large galleries or companies, small businesses and on down to the self-employed artist have options.

Tyler LaReau of Norman-based LaReau & Associates Inc., an experienced agent familiar with both private and public insurance options, said buying an individual plan from a private health insurance company isn't the wallet-robber it once was when compared to employer-offered group plans, at least for the young (usually under 40) and healthy.

But for those who live with any number of health complications, group plans usually are preferable since, by law, no one can be denied insurance through a group plan, LaReau said.

Lower-income artists may also want to seek out an employer-based group plan. Insure Oklahoma, the state’s public health insurance assistance program, subsidizes premiums for qualifying small business employees. Insure Oklahoma also helps qualifying self-employed individuals (between the ages of 19 and 64) by giving them the option of buying into Insure Oklahoma's "public" plan. In this instance, the state becomes your insurance company.

The benefits of Insure Oklahoma’s plan are that premiums and co-pays are low and there is no deductible. Individuals pay four percent of household income, or usually less than $70 a month as a premium, and the highest co-pay is $50 for an inpatient hospital stay. By comparison, a healthy individual going through a private insurer might pay more than $100 a month with a $1,000 deductible, plus co-pays, LaReau said.

The drawback of the public option, which is funded by the state's tobacco tax and some federal matching funds, is that it has limits, such as with regard to choice of doctor, LaReau said. In such instances, Insure Oklahoma's plan is more like that of a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), which requires individuals to choose from a list of pre-approved doctors. Still, LaReau said Insure Oklahoma is a welcome alternative to having no insurance at all. (Note: Insure Oklahoma’s provider (doctor) directory is 48 pages long.)

In the end, there are many factors that can affect one's eligibility and the cost of coverage, etc. Individual plans are tailored to fit each individual based on many factors such as current health, family health history and location of residence, which are set by the insurance industry. Each artist should take the time to research the matter themselves, and we’ve found the Artists' Health Insurance Resource Center (http://www.ahirc.org/) is a great place to start looking. Good luck!

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