Individual and Family

Gig Economy Health Insurance: Coverage for the Self-Employed

Updated on February 13, 2020


As a gig economy worker, the benefits you are entitled to might not be as cut and dry as with some other jobs. Gig economy jobs are pretty new, which might contribute to the uncertainty around whether or not gig economy workers are actually employees, and whether or not they are entitled to health insurance benefits. Continue reading to see some options for self-employed health insurance, so that you don’t have to go uninsured as a gig worker.

What is the gig economy?

A “gig” is equivalent to doing contracted work. In general, someone doing a gig is paid to execute a task on behalf of a company he or she is not an employee of. With the rise of gig economy apps, connecting customers to businesses or individuals has become quicker and easier. The gig economy has become bigger and bigger, with more contracted, or “gig” workers carrying out various tasks for customers via apps.

Are gig workers employees?

In recent years, makers of gig economy apps that allow individuals to get episodic work, have been facing some time defining what an employee is in court.
The reason why gig economy workers would want to be classified as employees: benefits, benefits, benefits. Because many of these gig economy companies are actually big businesses, they’re required to offer health insurance benefits to their employees. But the drivers, delivery people, dog walkers, etc. who use the apps to seek work are not considered employees of these companies—which means no benefits for them.
The definition of an employee can be decided by a few factors. The IRS states that in order for a worker to be considered an employee:

  • The business must control what work or services will be done
  • The business must control how the work or service is done

This simple definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation, though. In many cases it’s not clear exactly when a worker should be considered an employee and when a worker is a contractor. National Public Radio (NPR) reported that courts may consider several different factors. For example, do employers give workers uniforms and/or orientation and training programs? These might point towards employees instead of gig workers.
Every situation is different, and this article should not be used as legal advice. Consult legal counsel or reach out to your employer if you believe that you have been unrightfully classified as a contracted worker.

Gig economy issues

For some consumers, the gig economy is awesome due to its practicality and convenience. With a few taps on a phone, anyone can order food, get a dog walked, or get a ride across town. But the ease of this industry comes with some issues for the on-demand gig economy workers providing services on a gig-by-gig basis. Many of these issues are caused by gig employers classifying these gig economy workers as “self-employed contractors.”, This allows businesses to sidestep many responsibilities they have toward employees. Unlike employees, gig workers have to deal with facts like these:

  • Gig economy workers don’t get benefits like sick days, health insurance, vacations days, or life insurance.
  • The jobs come gig-by-gig, and there is no guaranteed future work. If consumers are not ordering food or needing rides, then no money is coming in for the gig worker. This means unsteady pay, and possibly less than the legal hourly minimum wage.
  • Gig economy work often requires workers to be on-demand in order to be making enough money.

The short-term work relationships that we now call gig economy work can be useful for those looking to make a few extra bucks in their free time. On the other hand, depending on these gigs as a primary source of income could pose a host of issues, especially since economists see the number of gig workers rising in years to come. The flood of gig economy workers due to constant development of and dependence on new apps means that more people will be considered self-employed contractors, and won’t get health insurance through their employers.

If gig economy benefits are not available, how do you get health insurance?

If the company that you work for does not consider you an employee and offer benefits, you still have options for health insurance coverage:

  •  Self-employed health insurance. You can buy “self-employed” health insurance (also called individual health insurance). This is different from group health insurance that you would get from an employer, because you are generally the only person included in the plan, and you usually need to buy it during an open enrollment period. If you buy insurance on the federal Marketplace, read about that program’s open enrollment period. 
  •  Short-term health insurance. Short-term health insurance can be a great option if you need limited coverage for a short period. You can save money and protect yourself with the essentials without paying a premium for major medical coverage every month.
  • Medical insurance packages. Although medical insurance packages are made up of insurance products, and are not actually considered self-employed health insurance, they are a great way to save on costs and still have quality coverage through a variety of products. There are, of course, still gig economy issues beyond health insurance. Although there’s still a lack of benefits for gig workers, getting some type of self-employed health insurance coverage for yourself, and your family if you have one, could help with maintaining your health and avoiding financial ruin from unexpected medical costs.

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