By Konrad Putzier
As the Affordable Care Act is putting real estate professionals under pressure to buy healthcare, Keller Williams has found a creative way to help them find a plan.
The Austin-based real estate company announced a partnership with ConnectedHealth, an online platform where consumers can shop for healthcare plans. Keller Williams’ 89,000 associates will now have the opportunity to pick plans via ConnectedHealth, although they will still have to pay for them.
“When the Affordable Care Act passed, we got into a conversation with Willis (Keller Williams’ health insurance broker) about what that means for our real estate associates,” said Leslie Vander Gheynst, director of Human Resources at Keller Williams.
She said Keller Williams had always offered its employees benefits, but their associates — mostly independent contractors — were a different story.
The Affordable Care Act requires every American to purchase health insurance under threat of penalty, and provides financial support for those with a low income.
“We wanted a solution so that our associates wouldn’t be penalized,” said Vander Gheynst.
The solution she came up with was ConnectedHealth. The platform operates in a similar fashion as the newly-opened public exchanges: customers can look at different healthcare plans explained in simple language and choose one that suits their needs.
Keller Williams’ decision to help its employees is a rarity among real estate companies, who largely leave their associates to fend for themselves when it comes to healthcare.
According to surveys by the National Association of Realtors, between 28% and 30% of Realtors in the U.S. don’t have healthcare coverage. Marcia Salkin, NAR’s managing director for legislative policy, said that about half of those Realtors with insurance are on the plan of a spouse with employer-sponsored healthcare.
“For the most, part real estate companies offer healthcare only to salaried employees, and typically don’t offer it to associates,” said Salkin. She added that a large portion of Realtors likely qualify for federal financial support under the Affordable Care Act. Any household with an income below about $96,000 — or 400 percent of the federal poverty level — is eligible for insurance credits.
Many brokers not only stand to benefit from credits, but also from the fact that they can no longer be turned down because of age or pre-existing conditions.
“What we’ve been telling our members is to check out the exchanges. They should by all means keep working with (insurance) brokers they’ve worked with in the past, but also make sure their current programs are eligible for credits,” said Salkin. “The Affordable Care Act should benefit our membership.