Austin-based company reports health insurance applications up more than 30% over past two weeks

Freelancers and independently contracted workers in Austin are flocking to the health insurance market to buy coverage, new numbers show. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Freelancers and independently contracted workers in Austin are flocking to the health insurance market to buy coverage, new numbers show. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Freelancers and independently contracted workers in Austin are flocking to the health insurance market to buy coverage, new numbers show. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Reacting to the coronavirus pandemic that recently caused the cancellation of SXSW and other annual citywide events, freelancers and independently contracted workers in Austin are flocking to the health insurance market to buy coverage, new numbers show.

Recent data from Decent, an Austin-based company that administers health care plans for independent workers, shows health insurance coverage applications have tripled since March 10.

“These are often folks that are relatively healthy. Previously, they’ve made a bet on themselves. Now, they’re making a different bet,” said Nick Soman, founder and CEO of Decent. “The spike [in applications] has coincided with when the coronavirus hit Austin.”

Austin Public Health officials on March 13 confirmed the first two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Travis County.

Decent offers independent workers the ability to acquire health insurance plans outside the open enrollment window, which ran from Nov. 1-Dec. 18. Soman said Decent is unique in allowing applicants to purchase insurance outside this window.


According to numbers provided to Community Impact Newspaper, 54% of all new plans sold by Decent include virtual direct primary care. These plans allow patients to receive general care over the phone or through videoconferencing.

Since March 10, the proportion of Austin residents applying for these plans has increased, according to Decent.

Nathan Ipson, owner of Metrocycle Pedicabs, bought insurance coverage through Decent. Ipson, who has Type 1 diabetes, said the virtual care model has allowed him to stay out of physician offices and pharmacies to maintain appropriate social distancing.

The American Diabetes Association on its website states people with diabetes face a higher chance of experiencing serious complications from COVID-19.

“All I've really done is meet with the doctor for initial consultation over video. ... Whenever I need a prescription filled, I just text him and he sends it in,” Ipson said.

CommUnityCare, the Central Health-funded health care organization that operates several clinics in Austin and its surrounding areas, on March 23 announced it is offering telemedicine services to protect patients and health care professionals during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The convenience of virtual health care and telemedicine offerings, Soman asserts, may help boost the number of adults seeking health insurance at a critical time.

Texas has the highest number of uninsured residents of any state nationwide, according to American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Austin, the number of independently contracted workers—who are generally not provided health insurance coverage through third-party employers—is steadily increasing.

Freelance service congregator Fiverr in 2019 commissioned a report on the population of skilled freelancers working in creative, technical or professional positions in the U.S. According to this report, Austin has the fastest-growing population of skilled independent workers of any U.S. city and is the second-fastest growing city in terms of revenue collected by independent workers. The report found that Austin’s skilled workforce grew more than 25% from 2011-16.

“The folks that buy our plans are typically self-employed people,” Soman said. “Our top sellers have been these virtual direct plans. ... I think people are buying them right now because of the convenience. You don’t have to leave your house, it means you’re not going into a waiting room and sitting next to a bunch of sick folks.”
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


MOST RECENT

Williamson County added 54 confirmed cases of the coronavirus Sept. 18. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Williamson County adds 54 confirmed cases of coronavirus Sept. 18

As of Sept. 18, eight patients are hospitalized, four are in intensive care units and seven are on a ventilator.

Pflugerville's testing location is operated from 8 a.m.-noon Monday through Saturday where a maximum of 300 people can be tested each day at the site. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Coronavirus testing site in Pflugerville to move and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

Round Rock ISD families can now monitor the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases by campus. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Round Rock ISD launches COVID-19 dashboard

Round Rock ISD families can now monitor the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by campus.

Central Health administrative building in Austin
Central Health finalizes budget with increased tax rate, more health care services for low-income residents

Local health care district Central Health is budgeting a nearly $20 million increase in health care delivery services for Austin’s low-income residents.

"This season is a big, black box, and there are a lot of unknowns, as far as what the season's going to look like," said Dr. Bradley Berg, a BSW pediatrics doctor in Round Rock. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Baylor Scott & White Health to host 9 Austin-area drive-thru flu shot clinics

"This season is a big, black box, and there are a lot of unknowns, as far as what the season's going to look like," said Dr. Bradley Berg, a BSW pediatrics doctor in Round Rock.

A band performs at the Mohawk on Red River Street. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Six months into pandemic, Austin officials scrambling to save music venues, child care facilities and restaurants

City Council is set to begin making choices on which businesses to try to save on Oct. 1.

Over 11,000 students returned to RRISD campuses this week as in-person learning resumed Sept. 15. (Community Impact staff)
'I’ve cried almost every day': Inside Round Rock ISD's return to in-person learning

Over 11,000 students returned to RRISD campuses this week as in-person learning resumed Sept. 15.

Dr. Sam Rolon is a physician for Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group Creekside Family Medicine in The Woodlands. (Courtesy St. Luke's Health)
Q&A: St. Luke's physician shares advice on flu season, vaccine and prevention

The influenza vaccine is recommended for nearly all patients of all ages ahead of this year's flu season, Dr. Sam Rolon said.

student in mask
TEA launches statewide COVID-19 dashboard for public schools

The Texas Education Agency, in collaboration with the Texas Department of State Health Services, has launched its latest COVID-19 dashboard for positive cases in Texas public schools.

Williamson County added 35 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and two new deaths Sept. 17. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County adds 35 confirmed cases, 2 deaths to coronavirus count Sept. 17

Of the total cases reported, 8,187 are estimated to have recovered.

Austin City Limits Music Festival will present a free virtual broadcast from Oct. 9-11. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Free virtual broadcast of ACL Music Festival to be held Oct. 9-11 and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Sept. 17 that data from Texas' 22 hospital regions will dictate when certain businesses can reopen at 75% capacity. (Screenshot of Sept. 17 press conference)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: Retail stores, restaurants, office buildings, gyms can reopen at 75% capacity as early as Sept. 21

Nursing home and long-term care facilities will also be allowed to reopen for visitation as early as Sept. 24.