What the Health Care Bill Means in a Freelance Economy

The White House

I was laid off from my job in May of last year. I was not fired by some anonymous, Ryan Bingham-type. I was laid off by my boss, a very good man who was being forced to lay me off for the third time. I worked at a small business. Sometimes, my boss could afford to bring me on full time. Sometimes, he had to let me go. The third time I was fired, I could see in my boss’ eyes that having to lay off the same people over and over again was beginning to take an emotional toll. And it was becoming clear to him, and to me, that the process hiring full-time employees was on the verge of becoming extinct in modern America.

For the average business, taking on a new employee full time amounts to a cost of roughly double what that employee is paid in yearly salary. With payroll taxes and health insurance and overhead and headhunting expenses, there are a lot of costs to hiring people outside of just the wage you pay them. And those are expenses that many businesses are now choosing, or being forced to choose, to forgo.

I’ve interviewed plenty since being laid off, and most every place I’ve interviewed doesn’t have an actual job to fill. These are spec interviews. If they like you, they maybe bring you on for freelance work down the pike. That’s about it, and you have little choice but to go with it.

More and more Americans are being forced to eke out a career this way now: doing contract work in bits and pieces wherever and whenever they can, paying their own self-employment tax and buying health care on their own. Variety magazine just fired their movie critic of 31 years, Todd McCarthy. They plan to bring on freelancers instead. All of the work, none of the overhead. We are now a freelance economy.

It’s not terribly easy to cobble together a decent living this way (and even when you do make decent money freelancing, you still feel like an unemployed person), and health care expenses make it all the more difficult. In fact, it’s easily the biggest worry I have as a freelancer trying to support a family of four on my own. The process of just buying health care and filling out the necessary paperwork is enough to make you want to tear your hair out. As someone with a history of back problems, I’ve also been rejected by one provider. If it’s ever happened to you, you know what an awesome feeling that is.

There is a great deal of debate over how the new health care bill approved by Congress yesterday will affect the cost of health care. Conservatives will tell you it will go up from its already exorbitant levels. Liberals will tell you the series of excise taxes, increased client rolls, and new competition will help to lower rates.

I am nowhere near well-versed enough politically to argue either side of that case convincingly. All I know is this: Yesterday, when this bill passed, I exhaled just ever so slightly. As one of the millions of Americans working without a net, the idea that A) Insurers can’t turn my family down, and B) Insurers can’t drop me if I get cancer or something horrible like that… Well, that’s very nice.

I’m sure we’ll need to sell various organs to China to pay for it it, but still. It provides some measure of security to the growing number of people laid off in an America where the simple act of giving someone a real job has proven an unaffordable luxury for most businesses.

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