Q: I have been self-employed for several years now, and I also work as a substitute teacher. However, I will need medical insurance this April since the insurance I am paying for under COBRA [Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act] will expire at that time. Are there any companies that will insure people who are self-employed? Also, I have a few existing health problems. Will that affect my ability to obtain insurance?
America Online query
A: Kevin W. Krepinevich is the executive director of the Association of Health Insurance Agents (AHIA) in Washington, DC, the nation's largest trade association for life and health insurance agents:
Yes, there are many companies that offer insurance coverage for the self-employed, although you may have had a hard time finding the right company and coverage on your own. Your first step should be to contact a licensed health insurance agent. A list of agents can be found in your local phone book or by contacting your state insurance department.
A licensed insurance agent can provide you with information and advice on coverage options and cost-saving measures. Your agent should be familiar with the various insurance companies that do business in your state, especially those that provide the coverage you need.
Your agent will also evaluate your current COBRA coverage and make recommendations that suit not only your health insurance protection needs but also your budget.
You mentioned that you have a few existing health problems. It is extremely important to disclose your medical history to the agent who is helping you obtain insurance. Before purchasing a policy, be sure to check for pre-existing condition limitations that could reduce or eliminate coverage of your health problems.
Generally, it doesn't make sense to buy a policy just because it has the lowest price. Make sure you understand what the policy covers and what it doesn't. If you have questions, ask the agent before you decide to buy.
Keep in mind that all legitimate agents are licensed and regulated by their state insurance departments, meaning they must carry proof of state licensing. If an agent cannot show proof that he or she is licensed, don't buy insurance from that person.
You should buy insurance only from a financially stable company. Several private companies, such as Best, Moody's Investor Service and Standard & Poor's, conduct financial analyses of insurance companies. These ratings can be found in most public libraries; however, any agent should be able to show you the insurance company's rating. An additional rating resource, called Insurance Ratings: Comparison of Private Agency Ratings for Life/Health Insurers, can be obtained from the U.S. General Accounting Office by calling (202) 512-6000 and asking for a copy of document GGD 94 204 BR.
Finally, check with your state insurance department if you have any questions about the policy, the agent or the company he or she represents. The department cannot make a purchase decision for you, but it can tell you if the company or the agent you are dealing with is reputable and if the policy meets state standards.
Q: I am starting my own computer scanning service, similar to the nationwide 24-hour photocopy center chains. If a customer pays me a fee to scan a copyrighted work and uses the digital image to create publications without the consent of the copyright owner, can any action be taken against me if the owner sues for copyright infringement? How do photocopy centers handle this issue? I'm sure they photocopy copyrighted works for customers all the time.
Brian L. Wright
Elmsford, New York
A: James G. O'Neill is an attorney in Costa Mesa, California, who specializes in intellectual property law. He has more than 25 years of experience dealing with copyright law:
Yes, a copyright owner has the right to take action against a computer scanning service that makes unauthorized reproductions of a copyrighted work without the owner's consent. Either a "cease and desist" letter can be sent, which in effect requires the computer scanning service to immediately cease making the copies, or a copyright infringement lawsuit can be brought against the scanning service.
The creator of a copyrighted work is the only one who can reproduce or authorize others to reproduce the materials. Therefore, a copy center that duplicates such materials without authorization can be held accountable.
To eliminate this liability, copy services can take steps to protect themselves. Most require customers to provide written proof of ownership, or authority to copy, before reproducing any copyrighted ma-terials. Sometimes, the copyright owner can't be located. In such a situation, a prudent copy service will not duplicate the copyrighted work.
Most photocopy centers that handle requests to reproduce copyrighted materials require customers to sign form agreements that show the customer either owns the copyright or has the copyright owner's consent to have reproductions made. Once signed, these forms generally allow the photocopy center to pass on any liability for unauthorized copying to a third party, its customer.
The best advice I can give you is to meet with a copyright attorney before opening your computer scanning service; he or she can draw up a formal agreement that will eliminate the potential for liability in the event of copyright infringement.
If you have a question for our experts, include your name, address and phone number, and write to "Business Hotline," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92714.