Everyone has a healthcare horror story. The stories are all different, just like people, but they all have one thing in common – a crazy bill and difficulty paying it.
Maybe someone didn’t have insurance. Maybe their condition or treatment wasn’t covered. Maybe they couldn’t get needed surgery because they didn’t have enough coverage (that one is especially infuriating). We all laugh cynically and ask if the storyteller is okay and we shake our heads and wonder why healthcare is so messed up.
Health Insurance and employment
The concept of employer-sponsored health insurance wasn’t common before World War II. Well, to be frank, the idea of treating disease left a lot to be desired before anesthesia, and penicillin came into widespread use after World War I. During the second world war, there was a huge labor crunch in manufacturing and people were job hopping to get the most money. This drove inflation to new heights at a time when the country was still recovering from the Depression. So, in 1942, President Roosevelt implemented a wage cap to prevent companies from “stealing labor from each other”. Also, that same year, the IRS decided that deductions for the cost of health insurance were non-taxable. And so, the US government unintentionally encouraged the creation of one of the strongest recruiting incentives ever known – offering employer-sponsored health insurance.
Today, we live in a society where employer-sponsored health insurance is no longer an enticement to work for a company, but an expectation. Health insurance is now considered part of the overall compensation package of an employee, and aspects of a company’s health insurance policy are routinely mentioned in recruiting ads and company literature. We’re at the point now where companies are looking at wellness plans as an additional recruitment incentive.
Given all this, is it any wonder that employment agencies are now offering health insurance to the people they employ who work as temps for their clients?
Health insurance and temporary employment
Our economy is changing. Bit by bit, the idea of a permanent job has been replaced by the concept of a job as a gig, something that is around for a time, and when it’s over, you just move on to the next one. The idea of changing employers to find a better job is now so common it’s become standard career advice. People no longer fear changing jobs, and increasingly there are those who aren’t convinced that they need to have a permanent job at all. And those are the people who are embracing the gig economy.
Temporary agencies, particularly the larger, well-established agencies, realized that offering good health benefits can be a great recruiting tool. Adding health insurance as a benefit has made employment with a temp agency more attractive for established workers, as well as those who are committed to the gig economy and entry-level workers.
In 2010, the Affordable Care Act turned the health insurance industry upside down. Among the many changes were new rules mandating that companies with fifty or more full-time employees provide health coverage. The IRS defines full-time work as working an average of 30 or more hours per week. The rules for temp agency health insurance are more complicated than just the number of full-time employees, but this mandate is the one that most directly impacts workers. The result is that more employment agencies are offering health insurance and Americans have more options than before. Temp agency health insurance is the same as any other employer-sponsored health insurance. The plans have to meet the same requirements as any other health plans under the Affordable Care Act and they remain in effect until you leave the company or opt-out of the plan during the next open enrollment period or after a life-changing event.
What does this mean for you
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the Healthcare Marketplace, people are no longer as dependent on their employers for health insurance. This is a very good thing, but it can make for a lot of confusion whether you’re looking for a new permanent job or a new gig.
When to ask about health benefits
The old rule about not asking for details on health benefits during the interview process is still in effect. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until the day your onboarding process starts to find out what your benefit package will be. But you shouldn’t ask about it at the start of the interview process, either. The best time to ask about benefits is once the company has extended you an offer, but that doesn’t mean you need to patiently wait until that time to get information. Read the company’s website. Do some research on LinkedIn and Glassdoor, as well as other sites, like Comparably. Talk to your network and find out if anyone knows about the benefit offerings.
What to look for in a benefits package
Employee benefits come down to more than just cost. You must base your decision on your personal situation, as well as that of your family. Is there a specialist that your child sees? Double-check and make sure that they are covered by your plan. Do you plan on having another child in the coming year? You may want to look at a more comprehensive coverage package and a higher contribution to a Flexible Spending Account.
Once you settle on your insurance plan, you will be unable to change it over the next year without having what’s known as a “life-changing event”. A life-changing event is the birth or adoption of a child, getting married or divorced, you or your spouse losing your job, or the death of one of your covered family members. And that’s it. If a life-changing event occurs, you will have 30 days from the date of the event to change your insurance coverage. It’s a short window, especially when you consider how distracting many of these life events are. So if the life-changing event is something you can plan for, like getting married, don’t be shy about talking to your plan administrator to find out what your options will be.
Bargain for other employee benefits
Health benefits are group plans, so there’s not a lot of flexibility or room for negotiation. That being said, there are some benefits that aren’t part of the health plan that you can, and should, negotiate.
Paid Time Off
Don’t be afraid to ask for an extra week of vacation, especially if you have a big event coming up. Employers often use paid time off as an extra bargaining chip when they can’t meet a candidate’s financial expectations.
Tuition reimbursement and training assistance
Most temp agencies offer training, but if there’s something you really want, like assistance with finishing your bachelor’s degree or a professional certification like a CCNA or a Salesforce certification, now is the time to ask for it. Professional certifications are especially appealing to temp agencies as they will make it easier to market your skills to their clients.
The biggest headache a recruiter can have is trying to replace someone who left the company. So ask for a bonus if you stay with the company for a certain period, like six months or a year. If you remain with the agency for that period of time you will no doubt have proven to be a valuable employee. There’s nothing wrong with asking for something that reflects your value. It also shows that you’re willing to commit to staying around.
Health insurance has always been complicated. The changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act and the efforts made by employers to be more competitive in the face of the talent crunch have just made things more stressful and confusing. The good thing is, we are less dependent on a permanent job than ever before. So don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new.