NU Online News Service, May 25, 2004, 5:05 p.m. EDT – A freelancer has to earn about $120,000 per year to afford individual health coverage in New York City.[@@]

Working Today, New York, a nonprofit freelancer health purchasing group, has published that statistic in its latest New York health insurance affordability survey. The group collected responses from more than 4,000 actors, writers, temps, sole proprietors and consultants.

New York is an expensive city, and the state requires carriers in the state’s individual health market to offer coverage to all applicants in a given community at the same rate on a guarantee-issue basis.

The result: basic individual health maintenance organization coverage costs an average of $521 per month, according to a survey report written by Sara Horowitz, Working Today’s executive director, and Stephanie Buchanan, the group’s policy director.

Horowitz and Buchanan came up with the $120,000 income figure by using a rule-of-thumb that suggests that most workers can afford to spend only 5% of their income on health insurance without hurting their standard of living.

“Today, less than 4% of independent workers [in New York] meet this criteria,” Horowitz and Buchanan write.

The average cost of HMO coverage has increased $81 since 2003, when Working Today estimated freelancers would need to earn about $100,000 to feel comfortable about paying for individual health coverage.

The average New York freelancer or sole proprietor earns about $45,000, the Working Today researchers report.

Almost half of New York freelancers have had gaps in health coverage or no coverage at all in the past 2 years, and 85% of the freelancers who experienced gaps did without medical care while they were uninsured, the researchers write.