Health Insurance: Alternative Plans for Young Workers

Last Updated Jun 2, 2010 3:42 PM EDT

One of the early benefits of recent health reform allows young adults to piggyback on their parents' health care plan until age 26. And it's very appealing; more than 1 million young adults plan to latch onto mom and dad's benefits.

But what if you're 27 or older? I'm 30 and my COBRA benefits expire this fall. For those older young adults who are self-employed or freelance and want to find affordable health insurance options, here are five out-of-the-box strategies.
1. Work a Part-Time Retail Gig
Retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Costco and Starbucks offer health care benefits to part-time workers. If you can spare 10-15 hours a week (even nights or weekends) at one of these places, you may be closer to getting yourself some affordable health insurance.

True story: A friend's wife quit her job as a real estate agent (can you blame her?) and started working part-time at Trader Joe's this year. While her hourly wage isn't much to brag about, her benefits are: For less than $200 a month, her family of three (including a special-needs child) receive health care benefits through the group plan at Trader Joe's. Before, her family was paying about $1,000 through her husband's employer-sponsored health care plan. Talk about an incentive! Not to mention, she gets a major discount off Trader Joe's delicious food!
2. Move In with Your Partner
Some health care plans and employers extend coverage to domestic partners. If your honey receives benefits, have him or her check with the human resources department to see if you would qualify if you moved in. (Some companies only cover same-sex partners, for instance. Others may require you to have lived together for a certain time period, like a year, or have other evidence of the relationship, like joint bank accounts.) Of course, shacking up for financial reasons alone can strain a shaky relationship - so make sure you're ready to take that step!

3. Become a Part-Time Student
Some universities and colleges offer health care benefits to part-time students - even if all your classes are during the evenings and weekends. Granted, you need to spend money to earn this benefit, but if you were considering extra study anyway, recognize that there may be an opportunity to tap into the school's health care plan while you're at it. Check with college admissions offices for more information about health care qualifications. At colleges in Massachusetts for example, a part-time student is defined as someone who's enrolled in at least 75 percent of the full-time curriculum.
4. Join a Union
Joining a professional organization, union or alliance is still another way to receive group health care benefits. Whether you're a general freelancer, actor, dancer, writer or musician, unions typically have a health care plan for dues-paying members. The Freelancers' Union has made quite a splash when it comes to offering group benefits. Actors, writers and artists may also have benefit options through their respective groups.
5. Barter for Benefits
It sounds nuts, right? We barter for stuff all the time, but health care? Yet according to ITEX Corp., the biggest network of barter exchanges in North America, demand for health care jumped by more than 20 percent between 2007 and 2009. The company has more than 1,100 physicians who take part in the company's local barter groups.

While you won't get a souped-up insurance plan, some doctors and dentists are willing to giving you free check-ups in exchange for helping them with their business. Maybe your local dentist or doctor needs a new Web site? Try to exchange your amazing software skills for a few free check-ups. On bartering Web site Favorpals.com, look under "services," then "health care," to solicit barter arrangements in your area. Last time I checked, someone was offer remodeling/repair services in exchange for dental work.

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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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