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February 1, 2013

Don't have health insurance? Start your own insurance company

NEW YORK — Sara Horowitz was born into a proud union family. Her father worked as a labor lawyer, her grandfather as a vice president of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. So it felt like kismet when, on the first day of a new law firm job, Horowitz discovered that she and several other recent hires had been classified as independent contractors. "We weren't given retirement or health insurance benefits. We called ourselves 'the transient workers union,' and I was made president. We joked about it, but for me it was a significant aha! moment. I started realizing there was this whole new way that workers were being treated."

This was the inception of what has since turned into Horowitz's all-encompassing calling. Freelance contractors made up 31 percent of the American workforce in 2005, according to a GAO report, and that ratio is almost surely even higher today. As the freelance trend began to accelerate, in Horowitz's recounting, labor activists at first tried to cajole corporations into hiring all those independent contractors as full-time staff with benefits. But to Horowitz, it was clear this was a losing battle. "It would never make sense from the company's perspective," she says, "and we'd never have enough leverage." Instead, she envisioned a new strategy: She'd find ways to organize and protect freelance workers — in all sorts of fields — in the same way that classic trade unions provide safety nets for corporate employees.

This ongoing quest led to Horowitz's creation of the Freelancers Insurance Company, which now provides health coverage for close to 25,000 New Yorkers and is approaching $100 million in revenues. Along the way, Horowitz has received countless personal accolades. She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 1999, and in December was named to the New York Federal Reserve Bank board of directors. What's her secret — how did she transform a goal into a successful battle plan?

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