The Ins And Outs Of The Affordable Care Act For Freelance Photographers


Editor note:  I received this article from Michael a while back and have been in a bit of turmoil about it.  The subject is a contentious one, and different views, stories, and perspectives abound.  I almost didn’t publish it.  But, since I am all about education, and the crux of this article speaks to educating yourself as a photographer about the issue of medical insurance in your profession, decided to approve it.  Some of this I agree with, some I do not.  I personally think that the ACA is ultimately legislation designed at controlling the population, and really has very little to do with healthcare.  That being said, judge for yourself, and thanks to Michael for his thoughts here…

Health insurance could be called the silver bullet in the life of the freelance photographer. When all seems to be going swimmingly and work is in abundance, you remember this one thorn in your side. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) looks to be making some big changes to the system. Some of these changes stand to benefit freelancers, while others may have a negative impact. To learn about this sweeping piece legislation and how it will affect you, read on.


Ten Benefits For Every Plan

The essential health benefits are ten categories of medical benefits that under the ACA every single health insurance plan out there will need to cover. Whether the premium is two or five thousand, they will have the benefits listed here. The benefits have names like ‘preventive services’ and ‘maternity care’, but the individual medical services that fall under these broad titles aren’t actually defined by the ACA.

Instead the federal government opted to let each state decide what the essential benefits within its borders will be. This decision has an up and a downside of course. It allowed states to lean towards specific medical treatments that their residents want or need, but on the other hand this decision has created significant disparities in the level of mandated medical care among states under the ACA.

ObamaCare Graphic

The Individual Mandate

The individual mandate, that everyone by law has to have health insurance, is a controversial aspect of the ACA. If you do not have health insurance, you will be charged a penalty. The penalty per person starts out at $95 or 1% of your income in 2014, goes up to $325 or 2% of your income in 2015 and rises yet again to $695 or 2.5% of your income in 2016. In the years following that the penalty will be tied to inflation or it will be 2.5% of your income.

The penalty is designed to be any higher than the national average of the annual premium of a bronze plan on the marketplace. Given this, it seems clearly designed to make it more cost effective to have a cheap insurance plan than no insurance at all.

This part of the ACA certainly raises questions though. While the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate, that doesn’t make it just. It takes a certain amount of autonomy away from citizens. For those who are already covered, this may not be a big deal, but for people who have been getting by on good health and good luck, this could be a frustrating part of the ACA.

Ask Yourself A Few Questions

Hearing about the essential health benefits may have warmed you up to looking at a plan, even if the individual mandate is not your cup of tea. When choosing a plan you’ve got to know before-hand what you are looking for. What is the absolute most you can realistically spend on healthcare? What is the amount of money that you would rather not go over? Be honest. Things like pre-existing condition, number of family members and more can make a big difference in the cost that you can expect to pay. Sometime you just can’t beat old fashioned pen and paper for brainstorming.

Start Looking At Plans

For residents of most states the currently dreaded and glitchy, federal exchange at will be the place to go for purchasing health insurance under the ACA. Some states are running their own exchange, and you can find out if your state is one of those by looking at the the Kaiser Family Foundation’s list here.

All the exchanges plans are named according to the cost of their premiums and the amount of coverage they are going to give you. Platinum gives you the highest premiums and the most coverage, and bronze the lowest. Silver and gold plans fit into a space in between those two, rounding out your options.

Of course you’re not required to purchase a health insurance plan only at the exchanges. There are a number of big name insurance companies selling plans off the exchanges. The big attraction for exchange plans are the built in tax credits (described below) for those with qualifying incomes. If you make too much money for a tax credit it might be a good idea to look off the exchange to satisfy your health insurance needs.

Find Out If You Can Save

If none of that piqued your interest, this should: tax credits. People who make between 100 percent and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Line can get a hefty tax credit on their health insurance plan purchased at the exchange. The actual amount of your tax credit depends on a pretty wide range of things, your income being only one part of it. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator should help you determine a ballpark figure for budgeting purposes.

There is an unfortunate flip side to this. What if your annual income is more than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Line? Some people have reported that premiums for their current health insurance have risen significantly, or their plans are being cancelled outright because they don’t meet the new standards of the ACA. In cases like this it’s worth investigating what sort of health insurance offerings are available to you off of the exchange.

Stay Savvy

While the ACA came with the promise of affordable healthcare for all, things don’t seem to be panning out so perfectly. For some, things will get better and for many others it will be worse. That being said though, it is a fact of life (for the moment at least) and hopefully you’re feeling more informed and confident about the law.  However, don’t stop learning about the ACA now. Keep getting all the information you can about it. You might even consider talking with a licensed insurance broker. They are a great help when it comes to picking a plan. With all that, you should be starting to feel prepared so you can go out there and take action.

Michael Cahill is the Editor of the Vista Health Solutions Blog. He writes about the health care system, health insurance industry and the Affordable Care Act. Follow him on Twitter at @VistaHealthMike

It’s Time to Choose…


Yesterday I shared some thoughts on the quagmire of problems we face as photographers – copyright and small business issues run the gamut, and it’s not an easy decision.  I’ve made my decision though and am heading to the voting booth today to cast my ballot.  Neither candidate really represents me, but I do have to make a decision on who I think is better suited to address the myriad of issues we face in the coming years.

Regardless of your thoughts about politics in general (my wife can’t stand politics period), or if you lean to the left or the right, getting out and voting is the only way we can make sure that the officials know we still care, and that they’d better be respectful of that.  We are the ones that put them in office, and we have the power to remove them from office if they don’t respect our goals as a society.

Make sure you vote today – now, more than ever, it’s important to make sure those who are elected know that they must represent us!  If anything, it helps to know that after today, the ads, campaigns, and such can stop for at least a little bit.  It’ll be back to the usual rhetoric! 🙂

Decision 2012….


I am in a bit of a pickle.  As a creative, one of the things that concerns me is copyright.  Over the years we have seen it take a beating – people taking liberties with it, rights grabs from big corporations, yada yada yada.  It makes you like big companies (a.k.a. concervatives) less because of how much of a beating respect for copyright takes.  For instance, take a look at the recent case from Apple – they are being sued by a photographer because they used her image beyond the scope of the licensing they purchased.  The full story is here.  She was smart though – her work was registered, and she had gone through an agency to represent her, and when usage went beyond the scope, she is fighitng to protect her copyright.  Yay for her, boo for Apple.  So that means I should shy away from the Romney platform, right?  (Big business and all…)

On the flip side, as a photographer, I am also a small business owner.  This means that I take deductions on my taxes for using part of my house.  I take partial deductions on the mortgage, utilities, internet, phone, and car.  Heck, I even am entitled to take deductions on equipment (depreciation and all that).  It’s just good business sense.  The money I save from that has found its way into a retirement fund (a pittance really, but still – I’ve invested in the stock market).

So, in that vein, the conservative platform usually will try to reward investors by limiting capital gains taxes, while the other side of the aisle tends to prefer to tax those profits I’ve made on investments.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think I should have to pay taxes on my investments.  After all, I’ve paid taxes on my income.  I then take that income and invest it, why should I be taxed again because I happened to make a smart investment that made money?  I don’t think so.  So, that means I should shy away from the Democratic platform then, right?

It’s really an odd position to be in, because I don’t really identify with either party – either Republican or Democrat.  I consider myself more of a libertarian – conservative on fiscal issues, liberal on social issues.  Neither party really represents me.  Has anyone ever thought of how many people fit into this niche?  One where your interests really aren’t represented by either party?  I am thinking now about anyone who identifies as either an Independent, Libertarian, Tea Party, Green Party, or any other party not represented in the coming election.  Who are we supposed to vote for?  After all – we need to vote, right?  it’s our civic duty!  What if neither party really has our interests at heart?  Don’t vote?  That’s a tough pill to swallow.

In my mind, if we don’t participate, we really don’t have a right to complain, and I’ve got some complaining to do!  That means I have to vote!  But who gets the nod?

It’s definitely a quagmire and there’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but when you look at it from the perspective of a photographer – there are points that make me lean toward Obama, and others that make me lean back toward Romney.  I keep hearing that it’s a critical election, so this time more than ever, my vote may count (I live in a swing state).  I’d love to hear others thoughts on this.  Very few photographers talk politics, and it’s probably worth discussing.  You don’t necessarily have to tell me who you are going to vote for – but what issues are big on your mind these days?  Raising cost of living?  Taxes?  Copyright?  Gas prices?  There’s a lot to consider, and I know the presidency doesn’t really control all of it, but something tells me this election will matter more, and I want to make the right decision.

Help me decide who to vote for in 2012…

Have you made a decision on who to vote for tomorrow?

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