In a brick building in Brooklyn, a new style of health care has come to the cities hordes of freelancers. The Freelancer’s Union opened the nation’s first state-of-the-art primary care practice for freelancers in New York City last week to serve the rapidly growing independent workforce—everyone from entrepreneurs to nannies—who now account for 1 out of 3 U.S. workers.
“People used to think of freelancers as isolated,” says Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of Freelancers Union and CEO of the social-purpose Freelancers Insurance Company. “Freelancers used to have more in common [with people] in their discipline. But they all having the same issues of taxation, feast or famine, so they need to network,” she says, adding that solidarity has increased in recent years.
The medical practice is part of Freelancers Union’s Freelancers Insurance Company which is open to freelancers who can show their eligibility and live in certain counties in New York. The practice will offer co-pay-free primary care as well as preventative and personal wellness programs such as guided meditations, yoga, mental health services, nutrition counseling—and free Wi-Fi to stay productive while waiting for services.
“Freelancers told us they wanted a next-generation model of care. We know we’ll see reduction in medical cost that will make up for the amount of money we’re spending,” says Horowitz. “We view this as the first step, as we co-design this with our members.”
The medical practice has an 18-month goal of getting 3,000 people into the medical practice. In the first 3 weeks, it enrolled nearly 2,000. “You can email your doctor, text, or send a picture—it doesn’t matter. We pay the doctor by the person instead of the code. You don’t even have to come in because the doctor just gets paid to treat you,” says Horowitz. She believes that the practice will be successful because it focuses on health, wellness, prevention, and even ergonomics instead of getting paid.
Under Horowitz’s leadership, the union created a social purpose health insurance company in New York in 2008. It covers 25,000 New York-freelancers, has a 98% re-enrollment rate, and has $100 million in annual revenue. And in February, the Obama Administration awarded $340 million to Freelancers Union-sponsored co-ops to create nonprofit, consumer-driven health care plans for workers in New York, New Jersey, and Oregon.
So what about freelancers in (ahem) California and other parts of the country, where there are 42 million people working in non-full time jobs? Horowitz says that they’re taking on the health insurance landscape one step at a time, looking at cities where the union has the most members. Portland (no surprise) may be next: It has “a lot of self-actualized freelancers."