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Attention Freelancers: Health Insurers Will Be Calling Soon

A patient's blood pressure is checked by a nurse at a free health clinic for the uninsured and underinsured in Los Angeles, Calif.

Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

A patient's blood pressure is checked by a nurse at a free health clinic for the uninsured and underinsured in Los Angeles, Calif.

Since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009, much attention has been paid to the small business owners who will be required to provide coverage for employees starting in 2014, when the main provisions of the law take effect. If a study released by Cigna (CI) today is any indication, insurers are paying attention to another group affected by the bill: freelancers.

To conduct its My Business, My Health study, Cigna collected surveys from 250 self-employed Americans. Here are some of the findings: Twenty-five percent of respondents were uninsured. Sixty percent of those lacking health coverage said they put business priorities ahead of personal health. Many overestimate the cost of health insurance and undershoot the cost of medical procedures. “It’s eye opening how many people worry about insurance, yet how many people don’t have it,” says Lisa Lough, vice president of customer acquisition for Cigna’s U.S. individual business.

One revealing part of the study has nothing to do with findings that uninsured independent workers misunderstand the cost of health insurance and medical expenses. Rather, it’s that insurers like Cigna are thinking about freelancers in the months before the main provisions of Obamacare take effect.

With good reason: The ACA is expected to bring as many as 25 million currently uninsured Americans into the health-care system over the next decade. The Freelancers Union says there are 42 million freelancers in American, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicts the ranks of the self-employed will grow by 1.5 million next year, as health exchanges make high-quality insurance accessible to independent workers.

It’s not clear how many millions of self-employed are uninsured. But as Karen E. Klein has reported, freelancers may be eligible for ACA subsidies to help them buy coverage. They’re also subject to be fined if they remain uninsured.

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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