Self-employed: New insurance options will change Kate’s life

Being uninsured can affect not only your health, but career choices

Kate Lebo has been searching for affordable insurance, while remaining self-employed.

Kate Lebo has been searching for affordable insurance, while remaining self-employed.

Kate Lebo is creating her own career path – without traditional hours or sitting at a desk.

One trade-off: Going without health insurance. Her personal story rings true for many artists, musicians and small business owners alike. (An event tonight in Seattle will help artists and musicians get covered, see details below.)

For most of her life, Lebo didn’t worry about health insurance. She stayed on her parents’ plans until she was 22, and she received great benefits while attending the University of Washington and teaching at Richard Hugo House in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

When she was diagnosed in her 20s with a congenital hearing disorder, she says, she chose a conservative course of treatment and received excellent care.

Because she had coverage, she was able to prioritize her health without it affecting her bank account.

Graduating with a “pre-existing condition” 

After she completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in 2012, Kate worked on two books (check out “A Commonplace Book of Pie“) and launched her own pie-making school in Capitol Hill. Despite professional success, her insurance opportunities crumbled.

Her pre-existing condition (though not life-threatening) required attention, but health insurance was simply unaffordable. She grew frustrated and helpless in the search for quality care, but she loved her work and chose to stick with it, despite risking her health.

“This crazy thing — where I’m writing and teaching – this is not a phase, it’s a job,” Lebo enthusiastically explained.

Being her own boss meant finding her own healthcare coverage. She was lucky to find a last-resort, the Community Health Plan of Washington, which was subsidized and had a long waiting-list.

“I knew I would lose my benefits after graduation, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on preventive care,” she said. “I was saving money in the short term, but it caused more problems later on.”

Lebo’s hearing impairment presents a major challenge for a 30-year-old who’s self-employed. Now, there are new treatment options that can almost fully restore her hearing, but her current, stripped-down plan requires a six-month wait period because of her pre-existing condition. Even then, the procedure is cost-prohibitive. That’s a trade-off she’s been forced to accept.

Getting coverage to get the latest treatment

Fortunately, she now can sign up for an insurance plan through Washington Healthplanfinder, with benefits kicking in on Jan.1, 2014.

“I’m really optimistic that this will be easy to use,” she said about the new state health benefit exchange. But she still has some concerns about navigating the process. “I have so many questions – how do I do this? How do I find the right plan? How do I weed through the fine print?”

She can find those answers soon, when she returns from a national book tour and can connect with the toll-free help line (855-923-4633) or in-person assistance.

Lebo has found support among her fellow entrepreneurs. They use Facebook and other social media networks to share information and experiences about health insurance (in fact, this is how we found her).

“My passion for this has surprised me,” Lebo said. “I took excellent healthcare for granted.”

Getting the treatment she needs to improve her hearing and remain a successful business owner and artist can’t happen fast enough.

“Right now, I can deal. But knowing there’s a solution out there? I’m so excited to get that done!”

(A sold-out event at Seattle City Hall on Oct. 14 will offer tips and assistance for artists and musicians who need health insurance, sponsored by Public Health-Seattle & King County, Washington Health Foundation, Artist Trust, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, Seattle Office of the Mayor, 4Culture, and ArtsWA)

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