ISBA offers health insurance option to Indiana attorneys

After years of conversations and one scuttled attempt, the Indiana State Bar Association has unveiled a health insurance plan available to law firms around the state. But the coverage is not comprehensive, with solo practitioners being ineligible to participate.

The state bar is partnering with UnitedHealthcare to offer medical coverage to firms and legal service providers with two or more full-time employees. Also, at least 20% of the organization’s licensed attorneys must be members of the ISBA. Details of the plan were posted Monday on the state bar’s website. 

ISBA President Michael Tolbert sees the new insurance option as the association “taking care of the whole lawyer.” Already the state bar offers seminars and programs to help attorneys with the technical skills of their job, he said, but if those attorneys are not in the best physical and mental shape, they will not be able to provide the best service to their clients.

“A healthy lawyer is a good lawyer,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert and Joe Skeel, executive director of the ISBA, said they are pleased to be able to give firms in Indiana another avenue to get insurance, but they are disappointed that true solos will not be able to enroll.

In 2019, the ISBA was close to offering health insurance that would have covered solo practitioners. The plan would have been self-funded, with firms having to commit to participating for several years in order to ensure money would be available to cover any claims.

However, the plan was derailed when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia blocked the U.S. Department of Labor from recognizing the owner of the business as also being an employee of that same business. The ruling in State of New York, et al. v. United State Department of Labor, et al., 1:18-cv-01747, prohibited associations like the state bar from including solo practitioners in any group health plan.

While the case is being appealed, the ISBA decided to offer a traditional plan through one of the major carriers.

“As much as we really don’t like that solos can’t get coverage, we felt it’s still better to help as many people as we can,” Skeel said. “Even firms that are really small, they can still qualify and will be able to get a good rate.”

The state bar expects participation in the plan will slowly build over the next two to five years. Tolbert said he believes the first firms to enroll will have to make a leap of faith, but a snowball effect will start as more lawyers join.

Skeel sees the ISBA plan as not only offering lower rates but also rates that increase at a slower pace than what is available on the open market. Although each firm will be underwritten independently, their rates will start from a lower price because of the buying power that will come with the state bar’s plan.

Falling into the sweet spot of the ISBA’s coverage are small- and medium-size firms.

“It’s those small firms that can’t find anything economical or affordable where we think that we’re going to be helpful,” Skeel said. “So it’s providing something that we think is better than what they’re getting now.”

For more on the ISBA’s new insurance plan, see the March 31 edition of Indiana Lawyer.

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