Don't let health insurance keep you locked in a job

Jen A. Miller

If you're still on the fence about leaving your job to follow your dream, don't let the comfort of your employer's health insurance stop you.

There's nothing wrong with taking a spin through Healthcare.gov (or your state's exchange website) to see what individual insurance would really cost you.

One goal of the Affordable Care Act was to end job lock.

By providing guaranteed coverage for affordable costs, the law allowed dreamers and schemers to leave their jobs while knowing there is a place that will sell them insurance at reasonable rates.

But that message hasn't quite gotten through.

In the span of one week, I had someone tell me she couldn't leave her job because she and her self-employed fiancé needed her health insurance. Another said income wasn't a concern should she go the entrepreneurial route, but she needed her employer-provided health insurance.

Neither had priced health insurance plans on their state exchange or the federal exchange.

There are many reasons not to try self-employment: erratic income, higher taxes and the general feeling of unease even when business is good. But health insurance should no longer be a factor.

Besides, employers are requiring workers to shoulder a greater and greater share of their health insurance premiums every year.

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The difference between what's being deducted from your paycheck and what you might have to pay for an individual policy might not be that much, especially after government subsidies are taken into account.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's Employer Health Benefits Survey, individuals paid an average of $999 toward their employer-sponsored health insurance plan premiums in 2013.

Individual policies bought through the online marketplaces cost an average of $4,100 before any government subsidies were applied. Taking the subsidies into account, the actual cost fell to an average of $984.

That's right at the typical employee cost for work-provided health insurance, and the Department of Health and Human Services says 87% of everyone who purchased coverage through the ACA qualified for a subsidy.

Those premiums could be even lower next year because 25% more insurers expected to offer policies through the public exchanges. (So if you're already enrolled, don't allow your current plan to automatically renew. Shop around again).

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Then there's the question of how much coverage your premiums are really buying.

More than one-third of all employer plans have been "grandfathered" in by the law, which means they don't have to provide the basic level of medical services that the Affordable Care Act supposedly requires.

So if you buy a policy through one of the exchanges, you might pay more, but you also might get better coverage. And that is no small thing.

Crushing hospital and doctor bills are the most common cause of personal bankruptcy, even though most of the families pushed into bankruptcy by medical expenses had health insurance.

It was just crummy insurance, with so many loopholes and payment limits that it left them holding the bag for tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, in debt.

The ACA was supposed to put an end to that as well.

Government officials say that it's too soon to know how many people broke through job lock because they could buy insurance on state or federal insurance exchanges.

But I hope every aspiring entrepreneur will at least look at what's available on the exchanges during open enrollment for 2015, which is Nov. 15 to Feb. 15.

They just might help you clear that one last hurdle toward building real financial security by working for yourself.