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No Employee Benefits? Explore Options For The Self Employed

July 11, 2012
3 mins
A professional woman wearing a grey suit works on her laptop in downtown office

Being self-employed has numerous perks, from the flexibility of making your own schedule (you are your own boss after all) to the potential for significant income tax savings through claiming work-related expenses. But there's a downside too. For one, there are no paid holidays for freelancers and contractors. More significantly though, the self-employed miss out on one of the most taken-for-granted perks enjoyed by full-time staff employees – the company benefits program. So if you're self-employed, it's really in your best interest to look into private healthcare plans.

Get In On Group Benefits

Even if you are self-employed, you may be able to take advantage of lower rates through a group benefits plan. Inquire with everything from your alma mater to any trade or industry associations you’re affiliated with to see if they have a group plan. You may also want to speak with an insurance broker who, just like a mortgage broker, will shop around for you to get the best rate possible.

Ensure Basic Medical Needs Are Met

Even with Canada’s enviable healthcare system, many fees and procedures are not covered by provincial health plans. Most plans will cover a percentage of prescription drug costs – the higher your monthly premium, the higher the percentage of the fee that’s covered. They could also include upgraded hospital accommodations, an annual amount of coverage for things like a chiropractor’s visit and registered massage therapy, and basic travel insurance coverage. If your plan doesn’t include the latter, make sure you get supplemental insurance every time you go away. Getting sick or injured on holiday is bad enough; out-of-country medical bills can bankrupt you.

Dental and Eye Care

Basic dental plans cover a percentage of the cost of regular checkups and cleanings – again, with higher premiums equating to a higher percentage of coverage. When it comes to cleanings, many plans are based on a set number of “units of scaling.” Find out what your plan offers, then discuss it with your hygienist to see if you may be eligible for regular cleanings without having to actually see the (dollars per minute) dentist. Comprehensive plans will also include coverage for major dental procedures like orthodontics or root canals, but there’s usually an annual cap on how much total coverage you’re eligible for.

As for eye care, unless you got a house full of kids sporting Coke-bottle goggles, splurging for eye care isn’t usually a wise investment. A typical plan may provide up to $200 for prescription glasses and contacts over two years, but that may be less than what you’re paying in the cumulative monthly add-on rider.

Don't Overlook Disability Insurance

As every self-employed person knows, if you’re not working, you’re not getting paid - Which is why disability insurance is such an important business expense. (A friend of mine who works in HR considers disability coverage to be “the most important” benefit in any employment contract.)

You’ll need to shop around for terms and rates that fit your budget, but keep in mind the position you and your family would be in if suddenly you were no longer able to work for an extended period of time. While you’re at it, ask about “critical illness” coverage. This is a rider that provides a lump-sum payment for people who have, say, a debilitating but non-lethal heart attack, or are diagnosed with ailments like cancer. The idea is that the funds can be used to pay for everything from your weekly bills to alternative forms of treatment, at your own discretion.

Don't Forget Those Tax Benefits!

Regardless of which plan you opt for, be sure to mention it to your accountant or financial planner. You can claim the program fees as a tax-deductible expense and you may also be able to claim healthcare costs that aren’t covered under your plan.

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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