Health care for U.S. freelancer writers?

For a couple of years now I’ve tracked MediaBistro, a networking and job-seeking site for writers. New Yorker Laurel Touby started it about a decade ago as a gossip and drinks gathering for writers in Manhattan. She took it online in the late 1990s and got some venture cash along the way to roll it out nationwide.


MediaBistro evolved into a site that tracked the comings and goings of magazine editors, offered listings for full-time writing jobs and freelance commissions and — true to its roots — held drink-and-gossip gatherings in major metropolitan areas. I’ve attended a couple in San Francisco with a certain self-loathing that stems from the realization that I, too, am one of that whining, pitiful breed called writers who, when not badmouthing one another, bemoan the fact that the world seems to have so little regard for their talents.


Anyhow, since I’m currently on staff as an ill-tempered reporter for a middling metropolitan daily, freelance networking has not been terribly important (though that could change). And I only find the parties tolerable after the second Martini (and drinks are like $10 a pop in; last time I showed up broke and nursed a glass of water on a cocktail napkin until shame drove me away).


But this morning I got note from Laurel Touby offering freelancer writers in the United States a chance to join a group health care plan. I’m sure there are all sorts of clauses and caveats that must be studied. For one thing the prerequisite is paying a $49 annual membership fee. So if anyone familiar with the offering has critiques please comment. For instance, does the plan screen out pre-existing conditions? Is a physical required for admission?


Even without being aware of those details, however, I thank Touby and MediaBistro for giving freelancers this option. It is so damned difficult for people who are not payroll employees to get group health coverage. The National Writer’s Union recently started offering some sort of health plan for freelancers. I think they used to offer a health plan and then stopped for some reason and have now resumed. But I was pleased to discover there may this second option for freelancers at a time when insurers seem to be dropping group plans that aggregate individuals.


Anyone with suggestions of other group plans for media freelancers please comment. There is no more important common issue for the self-employed than group health.


Anyhow, being so excited myself about this development, I sniffed around this morning to see what others were saying about MediaBistro and its founding maven, Laurel Touby. I found not praise but rather a snarky and continuous stream of criticism emanating from Nick Denton’s Gawker and aimed at Touby and MediaBistro. Seriously. It looks like Gawker has created a Touby-bashing beat. Some of the jibes are funny (such as when 200 folks applied for a job as Touby’s assistant). And Gawker speculates that MediaBistro is for sale (what isn’t?).


But for the most part the Gawker stuff reads like the undisguised envy one would expect of people who work in Manhattan. I do not say “New York” because I believe people in the outer boroughs are not nearly so spiteful — with the possible exception of Park Slopers who not only think and act like Manhattanites but carry the cross of not being able to afford to live there.


I only mention this because of the decisions I’ve made in a life full of foolish choices (i.e.) I have never regretted leaving New York, the city which author Robert Wright once described as the world capitol of ambition — or words to that effect, as I couldn’t find the citation when I went to look for it this morning though the phrase has long been lodged in my head.