When it comes to health insurance for real estate agents, being creative and finding alternatives mean that more agents are covered today than in the past. Still, it is not always easy to come up with a solution. Take new Virginia agent Chris Cloud, for example. He describes his reaction to shopping for health insurance as “sticker shock.” “Coverage for just myself was running $640 a month!” But Cloud came up with a creative solution: Find a side job that provides health insurance for him and his wife.
Cloud is a bus driver in the morning and afternoon. In between shifts, he sells real estate. The part-time bus driver position provides full-time benefits. “So not only do I get excellent health insurance with dental and vision, but my wife is included on the policy for almost nothing!” The cost for the two of them is about $400 a month, he says.
Options available for health insurance for real estate agents through the ACA and other means
Finding affordable health insurance is a challenge for many self-employed agents like Cloud. Some buy into health insurance through their brokerage, such as Keller Williams, a family member’s plan, or the professional organization, National Association of REALTORS©. Others turn to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides health coverage for those with a low to moderate incomes.
Although the ACA may have helped many self-employed agents find health insurance, rising health insurance rates and tighter restrictions on federal tax credits may force agents to forgo or delay medical care for themselves and their families to control costs, the NAR reports. There are also tax penalties for not having a qualified health plan in 2017, although those are set to be waived in 2019.
Newcomers to the real estate business who are inclined to let the high cost of health insurance deter them should know that there is good news. The percent of uninsured NAR members have been falling in recent years since ACA reforms, health exchanges, and premium tax credits began. Only 20 percent of NAR members were uninsured in 2016 compared to 36 percent in 2012 before ACA underwriting reforms and health exchanges went into effect, NAR reports.
The majority of NAR members, 46 percent, pay out-of-pocket for their health insurance, according to the organization’s 2017 Member Profile. A partner, spouse, or family member provides coverage for 32 percent of NAR members, and 3 percent receive coverage through their firm.
NAR continues to advocate for health care reforms for the self-employed and small employers. Among its legislative proposals is to allow “bona fide trade associations” to offer association health plans (AHPs) to its members.
“Expanding AHPs would help small businesses band together to purchase health insurance coverage in the large group health market, similar to large employers. Expanding access to AHPs in this manner would allow more small businesses to avoid some ACA regulations and potentially bring down the cost of coverage,” NAR stated in a recent brief on the latest health care reform efforts.
Group health plans provide cost savings to members
NAR also offers affordable options to members through the REALTORS© Insurance Marketplace. The e-commerce site gives members access to health insurance through a private health insurance exchange that meets ACA standards. It also offers an alternative group health plan along with group dental and vision insurance.
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Insurance agents with the REALTORS© marketplace help NAR members find the best health care plan – or combination of plans – at the most affordable cost, without having to research the options on their own.
For instance, pairing supplemental insurance like accident protection with a higher-deductible qualified health plan is often less expensive than a single plan through a health care exchange, said Shannon Kennedy, president and CEO of SASid, the REALTORS© Insurance Marketplace administrator.
A qualified PPO plan with a $6,650 deductible combined with a $6,000 accident protection plan, for example, would save about $200 a month over a PPO plan with a $3,500 deductible.
REALTORS© marketplace members can also save up to 65 percent a year on dental services and 71 percent on vision over what they would have spent if they didn’t have insurance. Dental plans range from about $24 a month for an individual member to $199 for a premium family plan and about $13 a month for vision for an individual member, or up to about $37 for a premium family plan.
The marketplace also offers Medicare supplements, a free pharmacy discount card, and access to telehealth services.
NAR members are not the only ones receiving the benefits of group health insurance rates. Keller Williams is among the firms that also offer health care options to its associates through its KW Wellness Benefits Marketplace so that they meet ACA requirements and avoid tax penalties for not having the insurance.
Baltimore agent Jeff Miller knows of small business networking groups that have united to approach insurance companies about less expensive group plans. He cites examples of an alumni association, AAA auto club, and a religious group that allow members to buy group health insurance.
“Cost-effective health insurance for Realtors is all about seeking group insurance policies. Everyone typically has at least one organization that they will qualify for,” he says.
Miller and his team have a small group policy with Kaiser Permanente. By sticking with in-network doctors, they keep the plan affordable, he says. “While we don’t have as many choices in terms of doctors, our premiums are much lower.”
Article by Roni Robbins. Roni Robbins is a 30-year journalist with business, environmental, and real estate specialties. She wrote real estate articles for Mother Nature Network, the Daily Report, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also reported for the New York Daily News, WebMD, and Adweek with stories picked up by the Huffington Post, Forbes, USA Today, and CNN. Find out more about Roni here.