Insurance is an essential consideration when starting a law firm or solo practice. A solo attorney has several options available depending on the level of particularized need and money one can comfortably afford to spend. The options covered here begin with the most comprehensive and step down to basic preventative care.
First, solo attorneys should begin by looking at the insurance available through the American Bar Association or their local state bars. As a member of your State Bar or the American Bar Association (ABA), you qualify for low cost health, dental and long term health care protection. The ABA offers several options to its members. Options range from short-term medical to major medical and dental. Many of the options provide low or discounted rates for members, high limits and no credit checks. State Bar Associations (SBA) tend to offer similar health care options which may be better suited to solos based on the particular agreement entered into with insurance providers. For example, Texas requires membership in the State Bar of Texas as part of the yearly dues. As part of the membership, the State Bar of Texas Insurance Trust provides attorneys with advice on insurance options, assists in obtaining quotes, and guarantees eligibility. Depending on geographic location, your SBA may provide greater benefits simply because some insurance providers have a bigger presence in certain regions in the United States. These bigger insurance companies are able to provide better rates and more coverage options for the SBA.
Next, solos should not overlook options for small businesses. Small business resources provide another avenue for solo attorneys’ health options. Solos are small businesses. As such, solo attorneys should review options available to small businesses via the local Small Business Administration, Chamber of Commerce, or similar organizations. A solo attorney can research the local Chamber of Commerce or the State Department of Insurance for health insurance options. Either resource can provide information on group purchasing or reinsurance. Group purchasing can be attractive to solo attorneys if a large enough group can be brought together. Several states have mandated group purchasing. Texas and New York are states which have mandated group purchasing. The Texas Board of Insurance provides forms and information on obtaining health insurance through group purchasing.
Another option available to small businesses is reinsurance. Some states offer subsidies or grants for small businesses to obtain insurance. For example, New York provides, “qualifying small employers, sole proprietors, and individuals are eligible for the program provided they have not been insured in the past 12 months or lost their insurance due to a qualifying event. Small employers may buy into the program if they have less than 50 employees, 30 percent of whom earn less than $35,500 annually (adjusted annually for inflation). Employers must contribute at least half of the premium, and at least 50 percent of employees must participate in the program or have coverage through other sources.” Reinsurance programs vary by state and are not available in every state but provide a pivotal point of assistance for solo attorneys.
Thirdly, solos should take advantage of public assistance programs. Public assistance options provide additional options for solo attorneys who have limited or no income. Medicaid covers families with children, pregnant women, medically needy individuals, the elderly, and people with disabilities, if state and federal guidelines are met. Solo attorneys may also qualify for Medicaid under laws extending certain protections to employers seeking to buy health insurance for themselves and their workers. Typically, a business with less than fifty (50) employees qualifies. Solo attorneys with children should also consider Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP is typically available for children under 19 years of age and provides prenatal coverage as well. Qualification for CHIP is income based, however, a family of three can qualify with an income of $36, 620.00.
Lastly, solo attorneys who don’t qualify for public assistance options but don’t have enough funds for health insurance or simply prefer to “pay as you go” have a few options to choose from as well. Membership programs are offered through a variety of sources from local clinics to CVS and Walgreens. The programs benefits and costs vary depending on the business or organization who offers the program. Membership programs are not insurance plans per se, rather they are programs designed to help reduce the cost of health care. A membership program provides lower doctor’s visit fees, discounts for medical, dental, vision and even therapy. Membership programs typically have a small fee associated with the plan from as little as five dollars to thirty dollars a month. These programs may limit which clinics you visit and are more expensive if you have a major medical ailment. However, these programs can provide great preventative incentives and cheap prescription drug coverage. Solos who are starting off can find this option extremely attractive.
The options provided here are by no means exhaustive and does not address the coming change from recent health care legislation. I would recommend solo attorneys utilize the suggestions advanced here as a starting point to analyze your particular health care needs. For an in-depth discussion on how the recent health care legislation will impact solo attorneys, I recommend reading The Health Care Reform Bill: What Solo and Small Firm Attorneys Need to Know by Kimberly L. Alderman.