A convergence of forces — from the pandemic to the rise of more formalized gig and creator economies — is providing opportunities to modernize work-related healthcare and other benefits for nontraditional workers in ways that were little more than talking points until now.
Showing what’s possible in this reformulating space, portable benefits platform Stride Health is partnering with freelancer platform Fiverr, giving Fiverr users access to Stride’s services as gig workers and their allies seek ways to bring affordable care and more to the self-employed.
As Stride Health Co-Founder and CEO Noah Lang told Karen Webster, the pact with Fiverr is part of a far larger trend that’s placing higher priority on benefits portability and healthcare affordability, regardless of whether workers fill out W-2s or 1099s. And it has implications for the working world that extend far beyond freelancing.
“More people [are] decoupling from traditional employment and ending up in a creator economy or a delivery economy,” he said. That means “more people need to get their own insurance. Cracks [are] starting to show in the traditional economy’s benefit structure.”
Lang told Webster that the election of President Joe Biden halted efforts to end the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — a concept that got off to a bumpy start but is now in better shape than most know.
“Behind the scenes, health insurers of ACA markets improved their margins from 2016 to 2020 … by 896%,” Lang said. “Basically, they figured out how to make it profitable.”
It’s bringing back several large insurers that initially bailed on ACA exchanges, and with more plans comes more competition and better pricing. Combined with health tax credits available under the American Rescue Plan Act, Lang said, “All of a sudden you have four out of five uninsured Americans qualifying for coverage for less than $10 a month as the earnings cap was removed, allowing individuals making up to $80,000 freelancing to qualify.”
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A New Healthcare System in the Making
The revitalization of ACA via more generous tax credits to help pay for insurance is putting Stride on a healthy trajectory as word spreads among independent workers.
Noting that roughly 65% of freelancers enrolling with Stride earn $70,000 to $100,000 a year and yet are also getting some form of tax credit, Lang said it’s “had a great knock-on effect of supporting this very healthy individual insurance market, [and a] very healthy and accelerating independent [worker] economy. Net-net, that’s seen us driving three times as many people getting covered on our platform this year as we saw last year.”
That figure might even be larger, but Lang said most eligible Americans aren’t even aware they qualify for the credits — and may be staying in their jobs partly because of this.
“Even for folks who’ve left an employer, we’re still seeing [among gig workers] three times as many people go uninsured as in the general U.S. population because it’s hard to figure out, and they don’t understand the kind of assistance they qualify for,” he said
This adds up to tens of millions of people left out of the traditional employer health plans — and the need for a new system, Lang said.
“That’s kind of our drumbeat and why we exist,” he added. “There needs to be a model, not just for the gig economy but for [others] who lost their jobs last year, to take their benefits from job to job and not have this job-lock based on benefits.”
During the “Great Resignation,” when more and more people are placing a high value on the freedom of changing companies, and even careers, without losing valuable benefits, the drumbeat is sounding louder.
“The ACA really created the first portable benefit,” Lang said. “We’re enabling better access to it, making it easier to use, integrating it with your job, with how you’re getting paid. It’s one of those exciting parts about having that infrastructure.”
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Building ‘Business of One’ Many Times Over
But there’s more to benefits packages than healthcare, and Stride increasingly caters to those other needs.
“We have a much broader platform than just health insurance,” Lang said. “We started with Affordable Care Act health insurance in all 50 states in every ZIP code in the country. But it’s not just benefits in the traditional form of insurance products. It’s also all the financial guidance around it. When we partner with a workforce, we bring them all or some of that experience.”
Saying that 2.7 million Americans are “now using various parts” of the Stride platform, Lang explained that the company’s solution suite extends to finances as well.
Stride offers an app that helps employees track their incomes, make budgets, do tax planning and avoid common pitfalls freelancers face.
“We’ll help you make your benefits decision — all those things that kind of layer into your paycheck,” he said. “We see various take rates across that full platform. It is a portable benefits platform for very large workforces.”
Lang also described Stride’s financial forecasting engine — comparing it to robo-advisors like Betterment or Wealthfront — that enables individuals to forecast healthcare spending and plan accordingly, adding that it’s drawn interest beyond gig workers.
“We’ve had employers ask us if they can use that engine for their own plans because very rarely does someone understand what decision” they’re faced with, he said.
Allowing consumers to use Stride functionality in a “totally unaffiliated” way underscores the company’s core mission and vision of affordability and independence for workers.
“By giving people access to low-cost — oftentimes now free — insurance, you’re smoothing out those curves for them,” Lang told Webster. “You make it easier to be productive and to stay productive as you’re building your business of one. We view our job as really critical to helping folks like Fiverr freelancers be professionals, remain professionals and build that career.”
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NEW PYMNTS DATA: THE 2021 HOLIDAY SHOPPING OUTLOOK
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