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Freelancers Union Expands Affordable and Stable Coverage for Independent Workers

Feb 24, 2012, 11:32 AM, Posted by Nancy Barrand

Some good news came our way this week -- a story unfolding the way we hoped it would.

Freelancers Union, a Pioneer Portfolio grantee, will launch three Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (CO-OPs)--nonprofit, consumer-governed insurance companies envisioned by the Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance choices for consumers and small businesses. This is made possible by $340 million in low-interest and no-interest federal loans announced Feb. 21 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to start three of the first seven CO-OPs in New York, New Jersey and Oregon.

We’re delighted because Freelancers Union used a 2010 grant from Pioneer to shape its existing ground-breaking model for demand-side, consumer-driven health care into a proposal for the new world of CO-OPs.

It was a natural fit. Here’s the back story.

The existence of Freelancers Union is recognition that for the 30 percent of the workforce that earns its living as freelancers, contractors and temps – so-called independent or contingent workers – there are no employer-provided benefits, including health insurance. Many of these workers earn too much to qualify for public assistance and not enough to afford the health insurance available in the individual market, typically more costly than the group market plans offered by employers.

As a Foundation, we have been concerned for 30 years about Americans’ lack of access to affordable and stable health coverage, so a partnership took shape over the course of three grants.

We first partnered with Freelancers Union in 2007, when they were looking to start a health plan for the contingent work force, but with an important twist. They wanted the benefits to reflect input from the workers. Our first grant helped the organization conduct surveys and focus groups to shape the benefit design. It learned that its members wanted a product aligned to their holistic needs on top of catastrophic coverage.

With a second grant in 2008, we joined a consortium of funders that helped launch a for-profit subsidiary, Freelancers Insurance Co., with a line of products that combine catastrophic insurance coverage with special attention paid to mental health services as well as wellness, prevention and alternative therapies.

Then with a third grant in 2010 we sought to enable Freelancers Union to expand its group purchasing health-benefits program from New York into New Jersey and Georgia. We envisioned this work might produce a prototype for the CO-OPs, and it did. All CO-OPs won’t follow the Freelancers Union model, of course, but it certainly sets a standard.

The work of Freelancers Union reflects many of the core ideas that drive Pioneer Portfolio grant-making. It is transformative and disruptive. As large insurers back away from the individual market because of the tight profit margins, some fresh thinking is badly needed, like rolling individuals into groups even though they do not work together, and then listening to them carefully to design products that meet their needs.

That’s pioneering, and we’re proud to have played a part.

Follow @FreelancersU on Twitter.

Pioneer Grantees Named to Forbes' Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs List

Dec 2, 2011, 3:28 AM, Posted by Brian C. Quinn

Forbes is known for its lists – America’s richest people, most expensive zip codes, most promising companies and more. This year, for the first time in its 94-year history, Forbes released a new list – the top 30 social entrepreneurs. We’re proud to announce that Pioneergrantees made the list – twice!

Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan and Andrew Kassoy made the list for B Lab, a nonprofit that certifies businesses as “B Corporations”—companies that adopt a legal structure requiring them to create value for a broad set of stakeholders—employees, communities and the environment–not just their shareholders.  Their hope is that certified “B Corps” will flourish by attracting consumers who are looking to support businesses that align with their values and helping investors to drive capital to higher-impact investments with greater social responsibility, as well as financial returns.  To be certified, companies must adopt the legal structure and pass an annual B Impact Assessment. Under their Pioneer-funded grant, B Lab will develop the first set of criteria to assess a corporation’s performance in areas of employee and community health and safety to be included in the annual assessment.

Sara Horowitz is listed for founding Freelancers Union, which provides affordable health insurance to freelancers, consultants and temps who don’t have access to employer coverage. Her grant from Pioneer enables the Freelancer's Union to expand its group purchasing health-benefits program from New York into New Jersey and Georgia.  A previous grant established the for-profit Freelancers Insurance Company to design a health plan model for freelancers in New York state that combines catastrophic insurance coverage with coverage for prevention and wellness services.

RWJF’s Vulnerable Populations Portfolio is also excited to see two grantees on the list. Jill Vialet made the list for founding Playworks, which improves the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play. Playworks sends trained, full-time coaches to low-income, urban schools, where they transform recess and play into a positive experience that helps kids and teachers get the most out of every learning opportunity throughout the school day. Rebecca Onie is included for co-founding Health Leads, which mobilizes undergraduate volunteers to help patients fill “prescriptions” shared during provider visits for basic resources needed to be healthy, like food, heating assistance, child care or housing. Health Leads is one of many promising models addressing social needs through the health care system.

As team director of the Pioneer Portfolio, I’m thrilled to see our grantees singled out as innovative entrepreneurs. These innovators represent the kind of leadership and ingenuity that can help us tackle the tough health and health care problems we face in the U.S. Check out the story and don’t forget to congratulate Jill Vialet (@jillvialet), Rebecca Onie (@rebeccaonie), Sara (@Sara_Horowitz) and the B Lab crew (@BCorporation) on Twitter using the #Impact30 hashtag.